October 11: Spam in the News

Wondering if government action against spammers still happens? Here's an example from the UK. MediaPost's EmailMarketingDaily reports that "two UK firms were fined thousands of pounds by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for allegedly spamming consumers." Read all about it here.

HTML Email: JWZ's fault?

One-time Netscape Navigator developer Jamie Zawinski suggests that HTML support in email might have been his fault.

Whoops: iOS 11 Mail Microsoft Issues

If you've upgraded your iPhones to the just-released iOS version 11 and your email is hosted by Microsoft's Outlook.com, Office 365 or Exchange 2016, you may now find yourself unable to send email from your iPhone. It sounds like a known issue and that it is being worked on.

In the mean time, the most commonly suggested workaround seems to be that you should download Microsoft's Outlook email client for iOS and use that instead.

Hurricane Irma & Luck

As some of you may know, my wife and I (and dog) moved to the Miami area just a couple of months ago. We actually donated most of our furniture before we moved, because it was mostly junk, and because we were downsizing. So the past couple months before the hurricane, we had gone to IKEA Miami approximately nine hundred times, dragging individual pieces of flat-pack furniture home and painstakingly ignoring the silly IKEA directions. (Proving both that I can assemble a KALLAX from memory, and that a marriage is forever if it survives nearly two-dozen IKEA trips.) We had just gotten to the point where we had enough simple furniture to consider our new place home. Everything was unpacked. All the pictures were hung on the walls. No more travel for a while. We truly were where we wanted to be.

And then Hurricane Irma was coming and we had to get out of town. And we were lucky we were able to get out of town. We've been on the road, waiting for things to calm down, so we could return home. The past ten days were stressful, but we treated it mostly as an unexpected vacation and the worst thing that happened was that we overspent our food budget by eating out the whole time. My employer was not only understanding, but also provided assistance. We got through it just fine.

Unlike what other folks went through, in our case the storm mostly just did a number on the greenery around our apartment building.

Like I keep saying, we are lucky, and we really can't complain. But over on the other side of the country, my friend Karen isn't as lucky. Karen is a long time friend of mine, and past coworker, and she really knows what she is doing when it comes to email technology and deliverability. Her and her partner have fallen on hard times after she had to take medical leave. They are currently homeless. I am asking you please consider donating to Karen's GoFundMe to help them get an RV and some other stuff to get stable and so she can be able to work remotely. (And then you should hire her if you need deliverability help -- she's fantastic at it!) 

Karen is smart and sharp and I think she fell into a trap that any of us could fall into, and I think that with just the right amount of help she can get back on her feet. I hope you'll consider donating.

Full Email Headers

Email message headers have a lot of information in them. Only the tiniest amount of that header information is typically exposed to a recipient by default. There's much more to it than just the from address, to address, subject line and date. There's routing information, authentication information, IP address information, and more information hiding just beneath the surface, in the "full headers" or "internet headers" of that email message. To get at the rest of that header information associated with a given email message, a recipient will need to "view full headers" or "view the message source."

Here's a guide from MXToolbox on how to get full email header information from various email clients.

Google explains how to obtain full headers from Gmail, and even shows you how to extract valuable information from them.

Microsoft explains how to obtain full headers from various versions of the Outlook email client.

Pro tip: When somebody asks you to send them email headers, don't send them a screen shot of the from address or email body. That's not what they're asking for. (And screen shot images aren't searchable; if somebody is trying to help you troubleshoot something, it is painful to have to manually read each line of a header in an image to try to find the right header.) Instead, send them a text file attachment containing all of the copied-and-pasted email header info, or full message source.

Hotmail UK MX Change

The MX servers for Hotmail UK changed in DNS overnight. For those who are caching DNS or have hard coded DNS entries, you're going to run into problems with false positive "user unknown" bounces. Time to flush the cache and make sure you're relying on what's currently in DNS.

I'd include the specific domains here, and their new MX records, but I don't want to lead people down the wrong path of hard coding MX record entries, when they really should be relying on DNS.

Haiku Break

So, what do we do?
How? Nobody knows!
-- Courtesy of my friend Sarah

Finding DMARC when it isn't there?

If you're running a mailing list manager, or dealing with a reply-handling mail system, like many ESPs have in place, you've learned that DMARC adds a number of challenges to this process. To deal with that, you have probably modified your software to watch for any domain that has a p=reject DMARC policy and you special case those, rewriting the from address and perhaps preserving the original sender information elsewhere in the message.

This works great...until it doesn't. I've started to notice that message forwarding can be problematic for some domains that don't actually publish a restrictive DMARC policy. AOL and Yahoo's consumer webmail domains already have a p=reject policy in place, but Microsoft and Google don't have similar restrictions applied to gmail.com and hotmail.com/outlook.com.

But, you might as well start treating them as if they had p=reject, because ISPs practically seem to be doing that already. Mailing list messages from users at those domains fail authentication, and in many cases, end up blocked or diverted to the spam folder, for that authentication failure alone. It almost seems as if Google, in particular, watches for any sort of DMARC policy (even p=none) and treats a message more harshly if authentication or DMARC checks fail, for any of those domains.

So what I've done in my mailing list manager a bit more aware. If a domain has ANY type of DMARC policy in place, it will rewrite the from header, to minimize chances of any issue with delivery of that mailing list message.

I also spent a few minutes today compiling a list of "MAGY" domains. What are MAGY domains, you might ask? I think I got this term from Return Path -- it's shorthand for "Microsoft, AOL, Google, and Yahoo" and is a good way to quickly refer to the top webmail providers. I took that list of corporate and webmail domains for those companies, some of which have p=reject in place, and some do not, and set that up so that I'll just proactively special case mail from those domains, rewriting from addresses as if the domain had a restrictive p=reject DMARC policy, to save myself the headache of wondering how the end hop ISP is going to treat mail from that domain.

So far, my treating any DMARC policy as if it is p=reject is working fine for me. It might not be a good solution for everyone, but it has saved me some troubleshooting. Will it help to add in the MAGY primary domain list and treating all of those domains similarly? Time will tell.