Two Days of DMARC

I recently attended a two-day event at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, CA.  The event was to test interoperability of various implementations of Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC). As SmarterMail supports DMARC, the appeal of this conference meant that we would be able to interact with service providers who are actively working on the DMARC specification and to ensure that our implementation was on track.

What is DMARC?

For those unfamiliar with it, DMARC is a specification that builds upon SPF and DKIM allowing the domain owner control of what happens to messages purporting to be sent from that domain but failing either of those authentication mechanisms. The main piece that differentiates DMARC from anything that has come before it is the reporting aspect.  The receiving mail servers report back on a regular interval to domains implementing DMARC policies.  The reports contain information on the affect those policies are having on delivery of messages from that domain to the reporting server.  This allows the domain owner to make informed decisions on what changes to make to their policy.

The Event Itself

I haven’t been to an event like this previously so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The attendees were mostly very large mail services including AOL, Yahoo, Google, LinkedIn, CloudMark and Facebook of course.  Interestingly, Microsoft was not there.  What I found more interesting, however, was that SmarterTools was the only company in attendance, at least that I am aware of, that offers a mail server (not as a service).  I would estimate the attendance around 25 people, so it was a small gathering.

The actual event consisted of two days of working on DMARC implementations.  As boring as that may sound, the specification is a work in progress with the hopes of going through IETF for standardization as an RFC.  Therefore, being able to work with it on this level – before it is actually adopted – and to sit in a room with the people responsible for its development and interact with them was a great and enlightening experience. The specification seems fairly complete at this point although there were a couple conversations that could affect some small changes to it.  I came away from the event with a few improvements to our DMARC implementation as well as some homework for a couple more.  These changes will all be part of our SmarterMail 10.1 release on August 2nd.

Work Fast and Break Things

Since the event was held at Facebook, I’m sure there are people wondering what Facebook life is like. Unfortunately, my exposure was very limited.  It consisted of the main building where I received a temporary guest badge and was then chaperoned to the building where we worked for the remainder of the day.  We did not get a tour of the campus.  Walking out the back of the main “check in” building did give me the impression that I was in “Facebookland”, with lots of young people wearing Facebook shirts walking this way and that and with two rows of identical buildings framing the activity.  So while I didn’t get to see a large portion of what Facebook is about, the feeling I took from what I did see was a very young and energetic company.

The first floor of the building where we worked was a very large dining hall where we ate breakfast and lunch courtesy of Facebook.  Two thumbs up on the quality of the food.  A Facebook employee explained that they have another dining hall of equal size on the other side of the campus and each one serves a different theme each day, so if you don’t like what is being served at one you just hike over to the other one.  They also have a barbecue option that is available every day.

On the second floor where we worked I saw a couple signs that said things like “work fast” and “be bold” which I figured were motivational signs but then I realized those were actually the names of the rooms.  We were in “be bold”.  On the night I arrived at the hotel in Palo Alto, I watched a program on Facebook and one of their mottoes was “work fast and break things”.  I did not see the “break things” room, but I imagine it with chairs and tables bolted to the floor and lots of rubberized, rounded corners.

All in all, the conference was a great experience. I was very surprised that some of our competitors weren’t there and that SmarterTools was the only mail server developer who attended. Then again, we do try and stay as up-to-date as possible on the latest technologies being developed that affect the email industry. Being able to sit in a room and listen to, and participate in, a discussion about a new specification was a great experience. It not only gave me greater insight into the whole approval process but also will improve how SmarterMail integrates DMARC moving forward. Then, there was the food and the whole Facebook part of it. Not a bad way to spend a couple of days, if you ask me.

This post was written by Bryon Grosz, the development manager for SmarterMail, SmarterTools’ Microsoft Exchange replacement mail and collaboration software. If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to the SmarterTools Blog so you don’t miss an update.

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