Network Working Group A. Brotman
Internet-Draft Comcast, Inc
Intended status: Best Current Practice T. Zink
Expires: August 10, 2019 Zink Magical Contraptions
February 6, 2019

Receivers Guidance for Implementing Branded Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI)


This document is meant to assist receivers or other mailbox providers by providing guidance to implementing Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI). This document is a companion to the main BIMI drafts which should first be consulted and reviewed.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

The Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI) specification introduces a method by which Mail User Agent (MUA, e.g, an email client) providers combine DMARC-based message authentication in addition to cryptographic methods to ensure the identity of a sender, and then to retrieve iconography that the sender has selected. The iconography can then be displayed within the MUA. The displayed iconography grants the sender brand impressions via the BIMI-capable MUA, and should be a driving factor for the adoption of authenticated email.

1.1. Terminology

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "NOT RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in [BCP 14] [RFC2119] [RFC8174] when, and only when, they appear in all capitals, as shown here.

2. Goals for BIMI

As stated in other BIMI drafts, BIMI intends to advance email authentication by granting a sending party brand impressions as long as the message passes authentication mechanisms and and meets other receiver qualifications (reputation, encryption, whitelisting, et cetera). DMARC currently has wide adoption by some of the Internet’s larger brands, but there is still a long tail of small-to-medium size brands (and many large ones) that do not have it. Because BIMI provides a visual presence in the inbox, and because visual impressions are desirable for brands, BIMI provides an incentive for marketers to spur DMARC adoption, whereas a concern purely from security may not.

3. Should your site implement BIMI?

3.1. If your site satisfies the requirements, this is likely a "yes".

As email has evolved over the past three decades, it is no longer a medium of merely exchanging text, but of enabling people to build rich experiences on top of it. BIMI provides an incentive for brands to send email more securely because the desired behavior - a visual imprint in the inbox - first requires DMARC adoption.


The following terms are used throughout this document.

For definitions of these terms, see the Appendix.

4. Site implementations

In order for a site to correctly implement BIMI, the receiver must be able to perform the following:

A site may wish to implement URI alteration and image caching for hosted recipients. By implementing BIMI, a site agrees that through some combination of trust mechanisms, it will instruct a BIMI-capable MUA to display the image fetched from a URI within the message headers. This URI is created after the MTA authenticates a message, and is also able to authenticate the BIMI certificate associated with the sending domain.

5. Validation of a BIMI message

5.1. BIMI Site Requirements

In the BIMI specification, a message MUST be authenticated via DMARC. As stated in the DMARC draft, this requires that only one of DKIM or SPF must successfully pass validation. However, for additional local security measures, a receiving site may create additional requirements for senders in order to verify BIMI (that is, indicate to a downstream MUA that it is safe to load a BIMI logo in the email client)
This may include, but is not limited to:

These localized requirements are at the discretion of the receiving site. In general, the stricter the criteria, the less chance there is of an MUA erroneously showing a logo and giving the wrong signal to a user.

Upon receipt of an email, a receiver that implements BIMI should remove or rename any previously existing BIMI-* headers other than BIMI-Selector, as they may have come from an attacker (as long as the BIMI-Selector is covered by the DKIM signature; if not, it should be removed, renamed, or ignored).


5.2. BIMI Certificate Validation

(Currently, see document in Reference below)

6. Communicating BIMI results between the MTA and the MUA

In order for a receiver that has implemented BIMI to notify an MUA that it should display the images:

Alternatively, the MUA may also look for the flag in the mailstore and then attempt to extract the key/value pairs from the BIMI-Location headers. In either case, the MUA must first check to see if a message passed BIMI before loading the BIMI image.

While the MTA MAY stamp BIMI-related information in the message headers, they should not be relied upon by an MUA.

6.1. Image Retrieval

A core part of the BIMI specification is that the MUA will retrieve an image file to display for each BIMI-validated message. There are multiple ways to accomplish this, for example:

6.2. TTL of cached images

In some circumstances it is necessary to cache the images that an MUA would want to load. For example, if a domain owner has a short TTL time, it would force the MUA to look it up in an unreasonably short period of time. In this case, a receiver may want to set its own TTL.

One option is to set it to several hours, or a day; another option is to set the TTL to the same as the expiration period in the BIMI certificate that points to the BIMI image. The downside is that the caching mechanism might need to check for certificate revocation, and then re-fetch images.

6.3. Privacy Concerns

There is some concern that the retrieval of the iconography could result in a privacy leak.
As the images are retrieved, it's possible that the image provider could track the retrieving system in some way. This has implications whether it be the sender or provider that is hosting the image. For example, a sender could include a singular selector for a single recipient, or a provider could append a tracking string to the image URI in the header.

An in-depth discussion of all the potential privacy leaks with respect to loading or embedding images is outside the scope of this document.

6.4. Basic flow example

One sample implementation of BIMI by a receiver, who does everything on-the-fly, is as following:

7. Domain Reputation

Receivers are advised to consider incorporating local sources of domain trust intelligence into the processes which ultimately determine whether or not BIMI logos are displayed. Simply because a sending domain passes BIMI requirements does not mean the images should automatically be displayed in the MUA; a site may impose further restrictions based on domain reputation.

One source of additional reputation intelligence could be a platform that the email provider has created to calculate domain trust based on historical traffic; another is an explicit list of trusted domains that has been curated by an individual provider; a third is a list that is purchased from a vendor that might be a pass/fail or a scored list; another option is some mix of any of the previous three.

7.1. Rolling up based upon domain vs organizational domain

BIMI is designed to be able to work on selectors, and so in theory a brand/domain could specify multiple BIMI logos and differentiate them on a per-domain (per-selector) basis. The advantage for the brand is that they can choose the image they want the user to see depending upon various conditions (e.g., seasonal images, regional images, etc.).

However, for an email receiver, it may be easier to roll up BIMI logos on an organizational domain basis. One reason may be for the purposes of reputation, another may be for simplifying management of images. In this case, it would need to be made clear to brands that this is how the loading of BIMI images works. This documentation could live on a postmaster site, under technical documentation, or other official page maintained by the receiver. It could then be referred to when sending organizations ask about how to on-board to BIMI at the receiver, and provide official guidance about the way it works at the site.

If rolling up by organizational domain, then it may make sense to use a "lowest common denominator" approach. That is, an organizational domain must meet all the requirements for BIMI, rather than only a subdomain. The reason for this is that if gets an image due to having strong authentication policies, but does not, then this may cause confusion because a user may learn to associate and its image with; and if can be spoofed even though cannot, that can lead to users becoming more susceptible to phishing from

To alleviate this, receivers may wish to show logos only for domains that have organizational domains with strong DMARC policies. Or, if an organizational domain does not have a strong DMARC policy but a subdomain does, then it may treat the organizational domain as if it does have a strong DMARC policy so as to prevent a phisher or spammer from impersonating the brand or any of its subdomains.

8. Working with MVAs

Email receivers need to know whether or not it’s safe to download and display an image. That is, an attacker could go through the trouble of creating a BIMI logo and uploading it, but the logo may look visually similar to a real brand. For example, a spammer or phisher could create a lookalike domain for a well-known brand such as Paypal, then copy/paste (or slightly modify) the logo.

To prevent this, an email receiver could choose to verify logos of known brands by themselves (do it all in-house) and establish its own internal processes, or it could use a Mark Verifying Authority (MVA). The receiver could then outsource the maintenance of the list of trusted brands to the MVA, and simply download the list of brands and images from the MVA and display the logos in its email clients.

However, even here a receiver would need to exercise caution. It needs to ensure that MVAs follow best practices, respond to complaints, and do a good job of vetting brands. If users ultimately end up getting phished because they trust signals in the email client, then it is the email receiver that will suffer the brunt of the complaints and loss of reputation, rather than the MVA.

Therefore, an email receiver still needs to track complaints from its users, especially with respect to phishing and impersonation, and then send the feedback back to the MVA. If an MVA still generates too many complaints, this could be indicative of a rogue MVA (one that intentionally signs up malicious accounts), or a “sloppy” MVA (one with internal processes that not rigorous enough, or are designed to maximize revenue at the cost of lax security).

An email receiver should use multiple MVAs to reduce the risk of becoming too reliant upon a single MVA in case they have to stop using it, and therefore lose many dozens, hundreds, or thousands of images with no replacement and thereby contributing to user dissatisfaction confusion. Furthermore, because MVAs may be revoked, brands may wish to diversify their own risk by getting certified by at least two MVAs. The reason for doing this is that if the MVA they use ever gets revoked by an email receiver because of its bad practices, then their own brand will suffer penalties (not having a logo displayed) despite never having done anything wrong. By researching multiple MVAs, a brand can reduce the chances that losing one by a receiver affects their brand.

For this reason, brands are encouraged to get certified at multiple MVAs, and receivers are encouraged to use multiple MVAs.

8.1. Resolving disputes

From time to time, disputes may arise between brands where one brand says that another is infringing on its logo.

A brand owner would want to have all email receivers stop showing logos for the infringing brand because it could damage its own brand’s reputation. However, an email receiver is not necessarily in a good position to determine what constitutes legitimate usage of a logo, nor determine ownership of a logo, nor may want the legal risk associated with making this determination.

Therefore, email receivers are strongly encouraged to partner with Dispute Resolution Agencies. These agencies specialize in copyright infringement resolution. An affected party would then contact the Dispute Resolution Agency, rather than the email receiver, who would then make the decision about if use of the logo were legitimate. Then, they would publish the result of the dispute publicly where it could be viewed by anyone.

MVAs should respect the decision of the courts and any brand found to be infringing ought to be removed from their list of domains for which they load BIMI logos for. The issuing MVA of the infringing brand’s BIMI Certificate should formally revoke it. However, this is not guaranteed in the case of a rogue MVA or a sloppy MVA. Therefore, email receivers should also pay attention to the Dispute Resolution Agencies, and any results that they say are infringing should be prevented from loading in their email clients. The email receiver should also keep track of how often disputes occur and are found against various MVAs, as an MVA with too many disputes ruled against it could be evidence of a sloppy MVA or a rogue MVA.

9. Troubleshooting BIMI

There are several factors to consider for email receivers on things that can go wrong, below are a handful of considerations:

There are many reasons why a logo may fail to load; having tools to investigate (logs, headers in messages, internal documentation that is clearly written, having the knowledge pushed out to multiple escalation channels) are important for investigation.

10. Public documentation

10.1. For Brands:

It is ideal to publish the criteria that is used by your site to determine when BIMI will be displayed. It is fine to say that you use some internal domain reputation metrics as additional criteria to determine whether or not a logo should be displayed, and it isn’t necessary to give away the exact nature of the algorithm other than to say "You must maintain good sending practices."

If you use an explicit whitelist, a site may want to list the minimum requirements, and the method of applying to be whitelisted. Similarly, a provider may wish to state what type of activity will revoke the decision to display logos previously approved.

10.2. For users:

BIMI is not meant to instill additional trust in messages, and it is important to make this known to your users. All messages, even those with logos, should still be treated with (mild) skepticism, and any action regarding the message should still be individually evaluated. It’s possible for a site that has a high trust value to become compromised and send fraudulent messages that could compromise a user’s system. Ensure your customers have a place that documents BIMI and demonstrates how to check messages for fraud.

11. Appendix

11.1. Glossary

12. Contributors


13. References

The full BIMI verification spec can be found at: <>

Verified Mark Certificates Usage: <>

14. Normative References

[RFC2119] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, March 1997.
[RFC8174] Leiba, B., "Ambiguity of Uppercase vs Lowercase in RFC 2119 Key Words", BCP 14, RFC 8174, DOI 10.17487/RFC8174, May 2017.

Authors' Addresses

Alex Brotman Comcast, Inc EMail:
Terry Zink Zink Magical Contraptions EMail: