Blast from the past: RFC Ignorant

RFC Ignorant (RFCI) is a blacklist. It lists sites that don't have working postmaster or abuse addresses, among a few other reasons. The name "RFC Ignorant" comes from the belief that not having these addresses working on your system means that you're out of step with Internet RFCs (Requests for Comments), the guiding documents regarding Internet interoperability.

It's on my mind lately, as I found a site I assist listed on it. It's easy enough (in this case) to fix the perceived issue and get the site delisted (removed). I'm more interested in resolving issues than starting a fight with a blacklist operator. So, I'll just deal. Still, it's surprising to me that the list is even still around, as I recall that the disagreements over its value (or lack thereof) started shortly after the list was created, way back in 2000 or 2001.

Not a lot of people use this blacklist, because it really has very little to do with spam blocking. Lots of sites send no mail, or have some reason that they wouldn't have a postmaster or abuse address. But, even if a site's reason for not having such an address is a bad reason, it still doesn't mean they're a spammer.

So, if you use the RFCI blacklist to block mail, you will potentially block mail from some sites that violate RFC guidelines, as interpreted by the blacklist operators. But, that doesn't mean it'll block any spam. Lots and lots of spam-spewing sites comply perfectly with the RFCs, and wouldn't be eligible for listing.

Here's one example of the kind of disagreement the RFCI blacklist engenders.

Here's another, slightly more calm take on why a site wasn't able to continue using the RFCI blacklist.

Ask Al: How do I track abusive spam?

Cindy from NY writes: "Hello -- I am receiving abusive e-mails and am trying to track them through Sam Spade I think I know who is sending them and am trying to match IP addresses with old legitimate e-mails from the sender. Is this possible? I've spent many hours tracing -- it is exhausting."

After reviewing the spam samples you provided, it looks to me like the mails are just spams. Spammers do a lot of weird stuff in the code to try to sneak through spam filters. That's why they have all those words and sentences all over the emails. Spam filters read them and can occasionally become confused. At least, this is what the spammers hope will happen. I wouldn't worry specifically about those emails. Spam sucks, but there is not a ton you can do on your own to stop it. It's really up to your email provider (Gmail) to take care of it for you. Unfortunately, Gmail is not the best in this regard. Others, like AOL and Hotmail, are far better at it.

I say that because Gmail doesn't report spam back to the source network or ISP. This means that when you hit the “this is spam” button in Gmail, less happens compared to hitting that button at AOL or Hotmail. Gmail will put the spam in your spam folder, and based on metrics relating to your “vote” and others, they decide which mail goes to the spam folder by default, and which does not. Other ISPs and mail providers do the same. But, many do much more than that.

AOL and Hotmail both have very aggressive reporting programs where they work with other ISPs and email senders directly, doing things like providing feedback regarding complaints and notifying sending ISPs and companies that things need to change else mail will get blocked. Gmail, on the other hand, is more of a "black box" where nobody outside of Gmail receives feedback about which mail is causing problems or what needs to change. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gmail reconsidered this stance in the future, but for now, your best bet may be to switch to AOL or Hotmail for your email needs.

Ask Al: Help, I'm being blocked as a spammer!

Bill from the UK writes: "I'm 66 and not a tech guy. I've just been kicked back as a "KNOWN SOURCE OF SPAM (NJABL)" although I don't generate spam. I do occasionally send large files to business associates, and some get kicked back because of size, but that's all. How can I become 'unlisted' or at least get in touch with the generators of this incorrect information. Thank you very much."

NJABL ("Not Just Another Bogus List") is a DNSBL ("DNS-based blacklist"). If you don't know what that is, don't worry -- it's basically just a kind of spam filter. It's used by mail server administrators to try to block incoming spam. According to NJABL's website, their listing critiera includes "known and potential spam sources (open relays, open proxies, open form to mail HTTP gateways, dynamic IP pools, and direct spammers) for the purpose of being able to tag or refuse email and prevent at least some spam."

Bill, here's the deal. You're trapped in a situation where NJABL has chosen to list your ISP (Tiscali). If they're mad at anybody, they're mad at Tiscali, and not at you. Ultimately, what you need to do is contact Tiscali, tell them that because of this, you are being incorrectly labeled as a spammer, and you need them to address this issue with NJABL.

If you contact NJABL directly, they are going to likely just tell you the same thing. It's all about who owns the mail servers, not individual users on the mail server. So, there is a spam issue (or perceived issue) with Tiscali -- not with you. You're finding out that end users often get stuck in the middle when these types of issues occur. One point of view here is that it's Tiscali's fault, for perhaps allowing enough spam to come from their network that their users' mail is getting blocked. An alternate viewpoint holds that it's NJABL's fault, for being too agressive in their blocking policies, allowing non-spamming end users like yourself to be negatively affected.

Regardless of who is to blame, it's not an issue that you're going to have success fixing on your own. Contact Tiscali, detail the issue for them, and request that they contact NJABL to resolve this problem. When you reach out to your ISP, be sure to include the entire error message. There is information about the issue contained in this error message that both Tiscali and NJABL will need to figure it out.

How to deal with Challenge/Response?

Over here, I help answer a question about Challenge/Response filters, in MediaPost's EmailInsider newsletter.

I was already a reader before the "E-mail Diva" reached out to me. It's worth signing up for.