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June 12, 2004

New Service Tells Senders Whether, When, and WHERE You Read Their Email

Posted 1 day, 7 hours ago on June 12, 2004
Dear Gentle Readers,

As her regular readers know, Aunty is very big on manners. Manners are very important. Perhaps even more so in the online world, where the people with whom you are interacting can't see your facial expressions and body language, so that the online impression you make is the only impression you make.

Examples of good online manners are not sending spam, not including dozens of names in a visible cc: list so that you are revealing people's private email addresses to others, and not quoting endless lines of text in an email response to which you add only one word (we'll leave the question of the mannerliness of top-posting versus bottom-posting for another day).

An example of very poor online manners is spying on the people to whom you send email.

But that is exactly what a new service, "Did They Read It.com" helps you to do - wants you to do!

Users of the Did They Read It ("DTRI") service run their email to you through the DTRI server, where a web bug is embedded in the email. When you open the email to read it, the web bug reports back to DTRI that you have opened the email, and where, geographically, the IP address you are using is located. The DTRI server then reports this information back to the person who sent you the email. Now that person knows that you opened their email, and knows the location of the IP address you were using when you opened it.

But wait, that's not all!

If you forward that email on to someone, the DTRI server will tell the sender about that, too, reporting to where you sent the bugged email, when it was opened, and their location as well. Not only is the sender invading your privacy, but they are setting you up to unwittingly cause someone else's privacy to be invaded as well!

Naughty, naughty, naughty! Didn't their mothers teach them any manners? We don't spy on each other in polite company.

Now, granted, email marketers have known about and used web bugs for years, but they use them to track things like open rates to judge the effectiveness of their marketing message, not to detect whether Joe User in Peoria has actually read the email they sent. Similarly, there are services out there which will provide geo-location for an IP address. But never has this all been bundled into one package created specifically for a sender to spy on a recipient.

Of course, it's not entirely suprising, given that Did They Read It is brought to you by Rampell Software, the nice people who market such other anti-privacy products as Spector for Mac, which, and Aunty quotes, "will record EVERYTHING your spouse, kids and employees do on the Internet. Spector AUTOMATICALLY takes hundreds of screen snapshots every hour, very much like a surveillance camera. With Spector, you will be able to see every chat conversation, every instant message, every e-mail, every web site visited and every keystroke typed."

Nice.

Now, Aunty knows that the question which is burning in your mind is "Aunty! How can I keep this from happening to me?!"

The first thing which Aunty recommends you do is to make clear to those with whom you correspond that you will not tolerate anyone using any such privacy-invading service with any email which they send to you.

Second, if Aunty has said it once, she's said it a thousand times (but not by email, of course): turn off html rendering in your email client! Intrusions like DTRI rely on - in fact require - your email reader to actually parse the html! Turn off the html, and you have effectively stopped this, and a host of other evils, from ever tapping into your resources and privacy. There is simply no reason to have your email client render html other than the "ooh, look at all the pretty colours" effect, and if your primary reason for reading email is its visual appeal, then perhaps Aunty has underestimated you.

And, oh yes, be sure you let your own correspondents know about this, and that you for one will not ever invade their privacy in such a way (will you?!)

Kissy kissy,

Aunty

June 9, 2004

Aunty Spam: What is an Anti-Spam DNS Blacklist?

Posted 4 days, 9 hours ago on June 9, 2004

Dear Aunty Spam,

A friend of mine recently said that they were unable to send me email because my ISP uses a "blacklist" and their email address was listed on that blacklist.

What are these blacklists? Who runs them, and why do they get to decide whether my friend can send me email or not?

P.J.



---

Dear P.J.,

Your friend is almost certainly referring to what is typically known in the industry as either a DNS blocklist, or a DNS blacklist, depending upon with whom you speak.

Such a DNS list is typically a list of IP addresses all of which have some trait or traits in common, usually having to do with their association with spam. For example, a list might be a list of all IP addresses of which the list maintainer is aware which harbor open proxies or open mail relays through which a spammer has recently sent spam. Or it might be a list of IP addresses which are known to send email (spam) which does not meet with the list maintainer's standards for the sending of bulk email. It could even be something like a list of all IP addresses which the list maintainer doesn't like because they end in an odd number, or the numbers add up to 13, or any other arbitrary criteria set by the list maintainer.

Email receivers, such as ISPs and some spam filters, may choose to check this list whenever they get an incoming email, to see whether the IP address sending the email is listed on the DNS list. If the IP address is listed on the list, the ISP may choose to block the email rather than to accept and deliver it - hence the term "blocklist". There has been a great deal of debate as to whether these lists are more properly called "blocklists" or "blacklists", but it really doesn't matter what they are called - their function is to serve as an advisory for the receiving systems which use them. There are presently at least a dozen or so such lists which are used on a regular basis by ISPs and spam filters, and probably at least a dozen more which are used by smaller or less public systems.

Unfortunately, problems can occur when either the receiving system doesn't really understand the nature of the list they are using, or when the list maintainer doesn't have in place adequate methods for ensuring against false positives, or both. For example, some DNS blocklists will list an entire block of IP addresses belonging to a given site, even though only one of those IP addresses actually was associated with the underlying spam. This means that if a receiving ISP uses that list, they may end up rejecting all email coming from that site, not just spam. Other blocklists may list an IP address based only on complaints from users, without checking the facts, causing IP addresses to get listed on the blocklist simply because the user forgot that they had subscribed to a given email list, and so they reported it to the blocklist maintainer as 'spam'.

Now don't get Aunty wrong. There are some very well-maintained blocklists out there - two which come immediately to Aunty's mind are SpamHaus and MAPS. However there are others which are somewhat less well maintained, and those typically are the ones which cause the problems.

As to your friend's problem, both of you should determine which DNS blocklist is involved, and then contact the abuse and support departments of your respective ISPs, and ask them to please get the situation resolved. If it turns out that the IP address is properly listed in a responsibly-maintained DNS blocklist, then perhaps your friend should consider moving to a new provider. If it turns out that the list in question is one of the less reliably maintained lists, and your ISP continues to use it despite evidence of its unreliability, then perhaps it is your own ISP which needs to be replaced.

Incidentally, a great place to look up on which blocklists, if any, a given IP address is listed is at http://www.samspade.org. Tell 'em Aunty sent you.

Kissy kissy,

Aunty


June 2, 2004

Microsoft Now Owns Patent on the "double click"

Posted 1 week, 3 days ago on June 2, 2004
You heard it here from Aunty first (unless you read it somewhere else, of course) - yes, it's true...

Microsoft Corporation has been granted a patent, Aunty kids you not, on


"A method and system are provided for extending the functionality of application buttons on a limited resource computing device. Alternative application functions are launched based on the length of time an application button is pressed. A default function for an application is launched if the button is pressed for a short, i.e., normal, period of time.


"Oh, c'mon, Aunty," Aunty can almost hear you saying, "surely that doesn't really mean the "double click"!"

Read on (and this is all directly from their patent application abstract):



"An alternative function of the application is launched if the button is pressed for a long, (e.g., at least one second), period of time. Still another function can be launched if the application button is pressed multiple times within a short period of time, e.g., double click."



Did Aunty say that Microsoft owns the patent on the "double click"? What Aunty really wanted to say was "Microsoft now owns your ass", but of course, that wouldn't be polite.

Of course, perhaps this is Microsoft's altruistic way of trying to prove to the patent office just how out of control they have gotten, by filing a patent so patently (no pun intended) ridiculous, in order to show how far gone the system has become. Perhaps they had their fingers crossed.

Naaaaaaaah....

So Aunty will just leave the reader with this thought:

From now on, every time you program anything which includes requiring the user to double click, you're infringing on Microsoft's new patent.

Heartwarming, isn't it?

Kissy kissy,

Aunty

June 1, 2004

To Unsubscribe or Not to Unsubscribe: That is the Question

Posted 1 week, 4 days ago on June 1, 2004
Gentle readers,

As Aunty has discussed in the past, the question of whether or not to unsubscribe from unwanted email is a tricky one.

Traditionally, and certainly prior to 2004, the conventional wisdom among those in the know was that one should never unsubscribe from any unwanted email (spam) because all it did was help that nasty spammer to confirm that there was a warm body with a working pair of eyes at the receiving end of the email transaction.

With the enactment of the CAN-SPAM act, which went into effect at the beginning of this year, those sending bulk commercial email (such as to a mailing list) are required to do several things with respect to each and every email, among them being to include a functioning unsubscribe link or other unsubscribe mechanism, and to actually honour each unsubscribe request (within ten days, which is far too long a period of time in Aunty's opinion, but at least they have to honour it).

Still, we had trained a generation of email users to never hit 'unsubscribe', and to, instead, report any such unwanted email as 'spam'.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of unwanted email which really isn't spam. It's email you may have requested at some point and no longer want to receive, or it's email which perhaps you agreed to receive in order to gain access to a website or to receive a free service - but really you had your fingers crossed because everyone knows that nobody would really want that email. That sort of email.

Now we have the new Renaissance email marketer, who is playing by the books, who may not only be CAN-SPAM compliant but going above and beyond the requirements of CAN-SPAM, maybe even using - gasp - confirmed opt-in. And they certainly have functioning unsubscribe links in all of their email - and they honour their unsubscribe requests. Really, they exist. Aunty has even met a few of them.

According to a new study released this week by Lashback LLC of Millstodt, Missouri, creators of Lashback anti-spam software, at least 85% of all unsubscribe links actually work!

Hallelujah!

Of course, by Aunty's estimation, only about 5% of end-users bother to use those functioning unsubscribe links; the rest, if they take any action at all...you guessed it...report the email as spam.

Now, Aunty is not suggesting that you unsubscribe from email which you never, ever requested, from a sender with whom you have no relationship whatsoever. That is the sort of email in which the unsubscribe link may more properly be called the "confirm a pulse in the recipient" link. No, Aunty is talking about that sort of email described above - email you don't want, but which doesn't really come from out of the blue.

In that case, the polite thing to do is to unsubscribe. After all, if the senders are going to play by the rules, it's only fair that we do too - otherwise what incentive do those senders have to do the right thing? Even ISPs are starting to realize this and get into the act - Aunty knows of more than a few ISPs which will take a spam complaint from a user and...click on the unsubscribe link for them (only, of course, if the sender is a legitimate sender known to the ISP).

So take care, and take a moment to determine from where that email comes. If it's someone with whom you have any sort of relationship - any sort of legitimate company - give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they are in that 85%+ of senders who will actually honour that unsubscribe.

Of course, for the other sort - let 'em rip.

Kissy kissy,

Aunty




May 25, 2004

Aunty Spam Exclusive: Interview with a Spammer - Aunty Gets Down and Dirty with Spam King Scott Richter

Posted 2 weeks, 4 days ago on May 25, 2004
This is the first in a series of dialogues wiith self-proclaimed Spam King and Daily Show veteran, Scott Richter. Aunty has agreed to provide this venue to allow Mr. Richter to take and respond to questions from Aunty's readers. If you have questions or comments for Mr. Richter, please leave them as a comment to this article, and Mr. Richter will respond to them. Kissy, kissy - Aunty

Update: Scott Richter has responded to many questions and comments which Aunty's readers have posted for him. See the comments section at the end of this interview.

---

Aunty:   I'm sure it will come as no surprise when Aunty tells you that you aren't the most beloved email sender in the world, and are often called the "King of Spam", a name you've even joked about yourself.  Is your reputation as a "spammer" deserved?

Richter: I was looking to be part of royalty but did not expect to be the King of Spam. On the other hand we are a marketing company so we have to make do with what comes our way and run with it.

Aunty:  Ok, but are you really a spammer?  Do you deserve to be called the King of Spammers, one of the top spammers?  Is it a case of if you are going to do something, you might as well do it right?

Richter: No, based on CAN-SPAM in the U.S. I am not a spammer. The Spam King name is just a name given by the media. I soon will be the Anti-Spam King.

Many people have nick names, some relate to them more then others.

Aunty:   Recently you've said that you want to go straight, and to change your wicked spamming ways.  But you've also bragged about how much money you make from spam, so why should Aunty believe you?  Why should anyone believe you?

Richter: Actually I have not bragged, this is something reporters usually write about and misquote. I actually do not do what I do for the need of money. I just enjoy working and employing employees and building a business. I am like most people, and really enjoy a challenge. What many may find interesting is that I wanted to hang it up or move on many times, but the pressure from the anti-spammers is actually what keeps me motivated and in the game. It's like chess, no one wants to lose.

Aunty:  So, again, why should anyone believe you that you want to go straight and send only wanted, opted-in to email?   Tell us something which will convince us that you really want to go straight.

Richter: Actions speak louder then words. Any ISP who has worked with us and allowed us the chance to meet their guidelines can, I think, honestly say we have done a good job doing it.

Aunty:  Aunty has heard from more than a few sources that they have received spam from you as recently as this week.   Are you still sending spam?   And if so, why?

Richter: This is an interesting question. I think if the definition of "spam" is based on CAN SPAM, we are not sending spam. If "spam" is based on a third-party's statements based in another country outside the U.S. then some may call it spam.

Another issue people to not understand is that we host a large amount of clients on our network and most anti-spam fighters do not take the time to read past the IP space, and just find it easier to blame me for it.

However, by not complaining about an abuser on our network, because they either think its me or for whatever reason, we then do not have the chance to know and deal with it, which then actually can cause a large abuse issue to take place if we are not told about it.

Aunty:  So all of the email you send now complies with CAN-SPAM?

Richter: All of the email that we personally send has always complied with CAN SPAM to the best of my knowledge.

Aunty:  If you could sit down at a table with the heads of the top six ISPs in the United States, what would you want to say to them?

Richter: I would ask them to give me the opportunity that two of the six ISPs have given us to show that we can follow anyone's rules and work with them. All I ask is to be treated equally.

Aunty:  Are you saying that if an ISP lays down the rules for you, you will abide by them and that the only email you will send to that ISP is email which meets their criteria?

Richter: Correct. Different ISPs have different requirements on many things, all the way down to bounce handling. We have no issue meeting or exceeding any ISP's requirements of us.

Aunty:  Same question, but for the top six spam filters in the United States.

Richter: Probably thank a few of them for building Optinrealbig.com LLC to what it is today. If not for the Spamhaus yellow pages most would have never found us. You really cannot put a value on the advertising it does for us. It's sad but true in a way that Spamhaus works against itself as it advertises what ISPs to use, and who the top senders they list are, so most advertisers use it when deciding who they want to work with.

I would also ask that any filtering company judge us like they judge any other ISP. We face many of the same issues with hosted clients, and harassing us, our upstreams or people we work with is wrong. Besides, when was the last time the harassment really worked and put anyone out of business for good?

On the other hand if they were more civil and open minded instead of a few which are one-track minded, they probably could have made a difference on the net a long time ago and email wouldn't be where it is today.

Aunty:  You say that you would like to be judged like any other ISP, but you're not just an ISP.  You are also, by your own admission, a "high volume email deployer".   What would you say to the ISPs and spam filters which are blocking specifically the email which you, not your customers, send, or which you send for your customers?

Richter: That is their choice, all we can do is ask them to unblock us, and meet whatever they require of us to stay unblocked or whitelisted.

Aunty:  What do you think of anti-spammers?

Richter: I think some are super great people who truly want to make a difference and understand that no matter what you think of someone, if you give them a chance and work with them you can change them. Then others I think are so one-track minded that it's a shame they give the good ones such a bad image - all they do is complain and post to many newsgroups with no hope of ever making a difference. It's sad to put in so much time to something that you really don't effect. If they want the attention they should work with email houses to make a difference, and suggest ideas that are open-minded and which over time can work. Not "you're blocked until you die", that just wont solve anyone's issues.

Aunty:  Like what kind of ideas?  If you were going to consult to email houses and tell them what they need to do to clean up their act and get their mail delivered, what would you tell them to do?

Richter: I would tell them to work one on one with what ever ISPs are blocking them and to follow what ever requirements they have.

Aunty:  Who do you think is the biggest problem spammer out there today?

Richter: Hard to say, but from email I get it's who ever is joe jobbing us.

[Ed. note: A "joe job", in anti-spam parlance, is the act of sending spam and forging the "From:" information to make it appear that the spam is coming from someone else.]

Richter: I have taken a lot of blame for huge joe jobs against us. The good part is there are a few respected anti-spam fighters who have pointed this out to the others who were blaming me for it, and we are working to find out who is behind it and to seek legal action against them.

Aunty:  There's a kind of poetic irony to the King of Spam suing another spammer for sending spam which makes it look like the King of Spammers is spamming, isn't there?

Richter: No, I see it as one legit high volume sender going after one illegal unlegit email sender for damaging his reputation.

As to name names, its tough, I really do not know the workings of the really bad ones. I am under the impression that most of them are in Russia, from reading what people write about them.

Aunty:  Well, let me give you a name.  Ronnie Scelson told the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee this week that he was trying to abide by CAN-SPAM, but that if ISPs like AOL and Hotmail didn't stop blocking his email, he was going to resort to using deceptive tactics again.  What do you think about that?

Richter: I think that is wrong and very bad. I am not him, so that is his business, not mine.

Aunty:  If you could advise the United States government as to the best thing they could do to stop that pesky spam problem, what would your advice be?

Richter: I think they have begun it, I think CAN SPAM is a start. I think that over time they will change it more, but at least they laid the ground work to start. Also with the FBI now investigating, and the FTC, I'm sure that a few more crackdowns like what took place a few weeks back will send a message to anyone U.S.-based, doing anything that is not compliant, to quit real fast.

Aunty:  Do you really think so?  You said earlier that it is like a chess game, others have compared it to a cat and mouse game.  Why do you think that if there are legal crackdowns, spammers will stop spamming rather than just finding a new move?

Richter: Just a lucky guess. My instinct tells me that most illegal spammers cannot be really making that much money, and that the cat and mouse game will end sooner or later for them.

As I have said and will always say, the big issue is this is a global issue, and while we may solve the problem here in the U.S., we need to solve it somehow globally.

Aunty:  Is there any question which you think Aunty should have asked you?  If so, what is it, and what is your answer?

Richter: So many, but I'd rather let the readers write in to ask what they feel is most important to them.

Aunty:  Is there anything else you would like to say to Aunty's readers, or the world at large?

Richter: The most important is that no matter what, people on either side of the issue should realize that at the end of the day we are all human, and that treating anyone like a human will get them a lot further then they may imagine.

---

To send questions or comments to Mr. Richter, please leave them as a comment to this article, and Mr. Richter will respond to them.

May 21, 2004

Aunty Spam: How to Read Headers to Report Spam

Posted 3 weeks, 2 days ago on May 21, 2004
Dear Auntie Spam,

How do I read the fine print in the spam's header information to determine from where the spam really originated? I forwarded one to abuse@hotmail.com, and they sent me an e-mail saying it wasn't a correct address.

P.S. Since getting Starband, MailWasher won't work on my computer. :( I've been bouncing them back in Bounce Spam Mail, but don't know if it actually works or not. If the address isn't correct, then it isn't working.

Thank you,

Kim



---

Dear Kim,

You raise a number of interesting points and questions in your email. First, if you get spam which appears to be from someone at Hotmail, then pretty much the only thing which you can be certain of right off the bat is that it isn't from Hotmail. So Hotmail was probably correct in returning the spam to you, even though you were trying to do the right thing.

In fact, if you receive spam of the real, true "Make Money Fast" variety, you can rest assured that 99.9% of the time the domain featured in the "From:" email address will belong to an ISP or other Internet site which has no connection to the spam whatsoever (Aunty is a lawyer so she gets to use big words like that). This is known as "domain spoofing", and it is now illegal under CAN-SPAM. Of course, littering is illegal too, but that doesn't seem to stop the litterbugs either.

You are to be commended for wanting to dive into the world of reading headers, and while on some levels it can be very complicated, there is a first level on which it is not difficult at all, and can still be very useful. The first thing you will need to do is to open up an email, and then switch to the 'full header view'. This is called many things by many different email programs, but the most common terms are "full headers", "all headers" and "raw view". Aunty's email program calls it "long headers". Whatever your email program calls it, switch to that view.

Now you will note that in addition to seeing the traditional headers such as "From:", "To:", "Subject:", and "Reply-To:", you will also see lots of other lines, many containing IP addresses. The answer to the question "to whom do I report this spam" lies within these lines. These lines can tell you where the spam originated (or at least what the next closest link was), where it went from there, through which Internet locations it hopped, and generally the path it took to get to your front door. You only have to know how to read the information. If you want to delve even deeper, you can learn all sorts of things, such as where the spammer was geographically when they sent the offending message, what time they sent the spam, and what sorts of resources they abused in the process. But for our purposes we just want to know the path the spam took to get to you.

However, rather than tell you how to read those lines, Aunty is going to refer you to a couple of sites which will not only tell you how to read those headers, but will do so far better than could Aunty. The links are at the end of this missive.

Once you have determined the path which the email likely took, you will a) realize that indeed the email never came close to the domain which is featured in the "From:" address, and b) have a good sense of where its been (no, that doesn't mean that you can put it in your mouth), so that you know to whom to report it.

Now, once you know the sites which were involved, how do you determine the email addresses to which you should send your complaints? Conventional wisdom holds that any responsibly administered mail server will maintain either or both of postmaster@domain and abuse@domain. These are known as role accounts, and while there can be many other role accounts (for example "root", "webmaster" and "news"), these are the only two with which we need concern ourselves for this exercise. Of course, conventional wisdom is not always right - the recommended role accounts are not always set up, but that is not your problem. Aunty recommends that once you determine to which sites you want to send the reports, you send them to postmaster@domain and abuse@domain. So, for example, if you have figured out that one of the domains involved in transitting the spam is "jafljdjadjk.com", you may want to send email to postmaster@jafljdjadjk.com and abuse@jafljdjadjk.com (note that this is a made up domain, so that if any spammer scrapes these addresses it won't cause anybody real to get spammed).

When reporting spam, you should always assume that the site to which you are reporting the spam probably does not know that they have an embarrassing spam problem, and so should approach them with gentleness and respect (good advice for all initial encounters, online and off, thinks Aunty). You should also assume, particularly with an Internet site of substantial size, that their abuse staff is horribly understaffed and overworked, and so a delay in response of a few days may not be unreasonable (in fact some sites don't respond to the person making the report at all).

Aunty promised you some links to sites which will teach you how to divine the information contained in the headers of your spam, and here they are:

PO Box Header Reading Tutorial
Stop Spam.org Header Reading Tutorial

If all of this seems rather daunting, and related to your MailWasher problems, you may want to consider using one of the services available now which lets you automatically report your spam to a central clearinghouse, where they collect the data and use it to help boost their spam filters, which in turn helps to ensure that you (and all of your fellow service users) don't receive that same spam again. One program which Aunty can recommend is Cloudmark's "SpamNet" for Outlook and Outlook Express. Cloudmark is currently running a free trial, so that you can try SpamNet with no obligation.

Whatever you do, don't let the spammers get you down, and keep on reporting!


Kissy kissy,


Aunty Spam

May 18, 2004

Aunty Spam: How to Ensure That the Email You Send Actually Gets Delivered

Posted 3 weeks, 5 days ago on May 18, 2004

Dear Aunty Spam,

We run several small and medium sized mailing lists. For each of them, we have the permission of every single person on the mailing list to send them our email. In some cases they have actually paid to be on the mailing list.

Despite this, many times we find that the email we send to our users is not getting through. Sometimes it is because their email provider is using one of those so-called blacklists. More often it is because of a poorly configured spam filter. Once in a while it is even because some misguided end-user reported our mail as spam, even though they asked for it (and we could prove it).

I realize that spam is a big problem, and that administrators need to protect their servers, but what can we do to help make sure that our mail gets delivered?

Signed,

Over Filtered



---

Dear Over,

You raise a very important point, as increasingly more baby is being thrown out with the spammy bathwater.

The issue of "false positives" - good, wanted email being cast aside because it looks too much like spam, comes from a "tainted" IP address, or was simply erroneously reported as spam (and more than one ISP is guilty of making this way too easy for their users) is the bane of the commercial emailer's existence. Even the purest of mailers now finds that the email they send experiences delivery failures of 5 - 10 - even 20% or more, the lion's share due to overzealous or even moronic spam-filtering or reporting.

Aunty personally knows of a company which lost their domain because their ISP decided that their registrar's domain renewal notice was spam, and dropped it on the floor. Aunty also knows a well-respected online publisher which experienced a 10% delivery failure of one issue of their completely double-opted-in publication because in one of the articles a reviewer had used the name of a well-known anti-impotency product by Pfizer - once (and, ironically, in the context of a PDA's spam-filtering capabilties).

But knowing that you are in good company doesn't really help you in your quest to increase your deliverability. So here are some things which you can do to help ensure that most, if not all, of the email you send actually gets delivered. You can also contact eDeliverability (see below) to help you deal directly with individual sites or filters which may be blocking you.

1. Make sure that your email doesn't look like spam. This may sound obvious, but it's much less so than you may think. What may look like a great newsletter or marketing offer to you may look very much like spam to that big old spam filter waiting at the other end of the line. Things like USING ALL CAPS, or certain marketing catch-phrases (like, oh, "Make Money Fast" or even "Here is the information you requested") are guaranteed to get you filtered.

2. Make sure that you have the highest possible level of permission for your mailing lists. Whenever possible, use confirmed (double) opt-in, as while this may not always keep your mail from being reported or blocked as spam, it almost always allows you to quickly exculpate yourself.

3. Install one of the more popular spam filters, such as SpamAssassin, on your outgoing mail server, and see whether your mail gets through (this is also a great way to make sure that nobody actually sends spam from your servers).
[Warning: only do this if you know what you are doing and how to ensure that it doesn't actually interfere with the flow of day-to-day email traffic coming from your server.]

4. Don't try to game the spam filters. You won't win. Getting cutsey with how u speel wurds, or substituting numb3r5 for l3tt3r5 is guaranteed to get your mail blocked by, not past, the spam filters.

5. Develop a relationship with the larger ISPs or other places to which you send the majority of your email. AOL has a great system by which you can establish a feedback loop, meaning that they will let you know when their users report your email as 'spam'. They also have a way by which you can get your email whitelisted.

For problems with a particular site or spam filter, such as if a certain ISP or enterprise server is blocking you, or a particular spam filter always flags your email as spam, try eDeliverability's Virtual HelpDesk. This is a service which contacts the blocking site or system on your behalf, and works to get your mail delivered. And their rates are cheap - usually less than your own time spent on the problem would be! In the interest of full disclosure, Aunty must tell you that she has a business interest in eDeliverability.

Hopefully this brief overview will help you to ensure that your email gets delivered, and not mistaken for spam. After all, it isn't spam, right?

Kissy kissy,

Aunty

May 17, 2004

Aunty Spam: Frying Phish

Posted 3 weeks, 5 days ago on May 17, 2004
Dear Aunty Spam,

I keep getting email which appears to be from PayPal, or from eBay, but which really is from some scammer who seems to be trying to get me to give them my password or account number or credit card number, and not from PayPal or eBay at all. What can be done to stop this? What if somebody does this and pretends that they are sending mail from my company? Isn't it illegal to impersonate a business or something?

Ted


---

Dear Ted,

The activity you describe has come to be known as "phishing" (pronounced "fishing"), and it is indeed illegal, on many levels and in many ways. Phishing involves making your email appear to be coming from a known company, and then trying to get the target (you) to follow some link and reveal some information such as, as you noted, your password or credit card information.

Phishing has become increasingly common. In fact, SurfControl, a British web and email filtering company, just released the results of a study today which indicates that brand-imitating phishing spam has increased nearly 500% since January.

Despite the fact that phishing attacks are so common, they are actually one of the easiest sorts of spam to prosecute under the law, and, relatively speaking, ridiculously easy for the victim company (the one whose name is being used improperly) to bring to court. That is because, in addition to being illegal under more traditional business and anti-spam laws, such as CAN-SPAM, the use of another company's domain name in spam is almost always a violation of that company's trademark, and trademark law is very well established, and it is very easy to bring a lawsuit under trademark law.

So, what should you do if you are the victim of a phishing expedition?

Well, if you are on the receiving end, first of all, and hopefully obviously, don't click on any of the links!!

Secondly, if you can, take a moment to report the phishing spam to the company whose domain is spoofed (faked) in the headers. For example, if the spam appears to be from PayPal, you can send a copy of it to "spoof@paypal.com", and if the spam appears to be from eBay, you can send a copy of it to spoof@ebay.com. JavaWoman has a great page on her website with lots of addresses to which you can report phishing and domain spoofing, at http://banspam.javawoman.com/report3/scam3.html

If it is your company which has been spoofed, you should immediately speak with your attorney about filing a trademark infringement lawsuit. Trademark infringement has been used very successfuly in recent times to stop spammers dead in their tracks - usually you can get an injunction within 24-48 hours of filing a trademark infringement lawsuit, and trademark law also allows you to hold anyone who is facilitating the phishing attack legally accountable as well. This means it is very easy to get the ISPs, any affiliate programs, and anyone else who is involved, to tell you which of their customers are involved in the scam.

So be you recipient or the infringed, grab hold of your phish and say "we're not going to take it anymore!"

Kissy kissy,

Aunty Spam




May 13, 2004

Dear Aunty Spam: Best Way to Beat Spam with Outlook 2003?

Posted 1 year, 1 month ago on May 13, 2004

Dear Aunty Spam,

I'm really enjoying reading your column, you have great advice and are very funny.

I have a question about Windows and Outlook 2003. What is the best way to stop spam? My ISPs spam filters don't seem to be very helpful, and I still get a lot of spam coming on to my computer.

Signed,

Full of Spam


---

Dear Full,

Aunty is so pleased that you enjoy her column, and if you get a chuckle out of it at the same time, well, then, my work here is done (ok, not really).

Outlook 2003 actually contains some fairly nifty built-in anti-spam functions, similar to those found in many of today's end-user email programs.

When using Outlook 2003, and with an email highlighted (spam or not), select the "Junk Email" option from the Outlook "action" menu.
You will see a list of options which include "Add Sender to Blocked Senders List", "Add Sender to Safe Senders List", "Add Sender's Domain to Safe Senders List", "Add Recipient to Safe Senders List", "Mark as Not Junk Mail", and "Junk Email Options".

By applying these actions according to your preferences, you can pretty quickly have Outlook set to deliver email you want to your inbox, while shunting email that you don't want into the spam folder. You should be sure to review your spam folder occasionally, to make sure that Outlook hasn't accidentally put some email you want into your spam pile. If Outlook as done that, you can highlight that email and select the "Mark as Not Junk Mail" option.

Aunty has found that it's very useful to be able to add sending domains to the safe list, along with individual sender's addresses, as this allows you to set Outlook's filtering to a higher (more sensitive) level. You can set the level of filtering by going to the "Junk Email Options" area, and selecting "Options". This gives you a click-button menu which allows you to set your spam filtering level at "none", "low", "high", or "Safe Lists Only". "Safe Lists Only" means that the only email which will go into your inbox is email from the people on your "Safe Senders List" - all other email will go into your spam folder (although this is not necessarily a bad thing!)

Many people recommend that you start with the filtering level set to "low", however many others have had success with setting it to "high", or even to "Safe Lists Only", and then working backwards, fishing good mail out of the spam folder and adding the sender to the safe list so that they are "whitelisted" from then on.

I hope that this helps to give you some spam-control guidance, and for goodness sakes, get an ISP with good spam filtering!

Kissy kissy,

Aunty

May 10, 2004

Link to Aunty!

Posted 1 year, 1 month ago on May 10, 2004
Dear Gentle Readers,

Now that Aunty's blog is all spiffed up with audio posting and all sorts of nifty sections and all, Aunty would be so very grateful if you could find it in your hearts to link to Aunty's blog. The link address is "/index.html", and in exchange, you should feel free to post (try Aunty Spam's new audio post feature!) your own links!

Kissy kissy,

Aunty

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