on Dec 12, 2006
Some Sysadmins evidently have spam filters in place that let you know if your email was eaten by their spam filter. It does this by replying to the suspected spam. I can see the reasoning here. If the filter eats an email I’ve sent to their system, the filter lets me know so that I can pick up the phone or otherwise make another attempt to reach the intended party. This seems like a helpful thing thing to do, until you come out of your stupor and realize spammers usually don’t use a valid return address. If a message is suspected of being spam, then the odds of the return address being vaild are astronomical.
The result of this idiocy is that if a spammer uses a real adress of some unrelated third-party (say, for example, mine) then the target’s filter will, in turn, send a whole bunch of “Your email could not be delivered” crap to this third party. Some are even stupid enough to include the text of the original spam, thus helping the spammer by propigating their spam even further. To me.
What would happen if I installed a similar filter on my end? When I got hit with one of these “warnings”, would my filter would turn around and send the warning right back at the original target? Would the two mail servers then begin an eternal game of ping-pong with the message?
I bring this up because the number of warnings outnumber the actual spams in my inbox this morning. One or more spammers is using [random]@shamusyoung.com as their originating address, and so my inbox has over a thousand of these “Your email was intercepted by our junk mail filter” warnings. These filters should at the very least have some sort of breaking point where they realize, “Hey, I’ve eaten a dozen messages from this guy. Maybe he is, in fact, a spammer, and maybe I should stop notifying him that his stuff isn’t getting through.” These filters should never, ever, blindly reply to hundreds of random emails comming from the same address.
I am reminded of a passage from Cryptonomicon:
Yes. That is exactly why this bugs me. It is not the volume of mail that irritates me, but the pointlessness and stupidity of the chain reaction.
UPDATE: I was just emailed a link to this post. Looks like I’m not the only one with this problem.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.