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On Spamhaus and Anonymity

A number of months ago, Steve Linford of Spamhaus replied to columnist Ken Magill on the topic of why Spamhaus editors don't typically provide their names. I highly recommend reading it, then coming back to my post to get my thoughts on this.

This occasionally comes up at the day job, clients can get (understandably) frustrated that they don't necessarily know who they're dealing with, why all communication must be via email, and that the Spamhaus people don't seem have a hotline you can call and get answered by a live person.

I've talked to a few of the Spamhaus folks, in email and at various conferences, and they've mentioned to me multiple times that there are real threats out there, real criminal gangs, who would probably take physical action against Spamhaus people, given half a chance. They tell me they get various threats periodically, and I don't doubt it. I've even observed it once myself. Way back in 2003, I saw an alleged spammer come to an FTC event on spam law in Washington, DC and start screaming at people who worked for Spamhaus.

Sometimes people are just crazy. Just "all mouth." Maybe they wouldn't follow through on their crazy threats. I hope so, because I've got my own "hate pages" out there, too. One where an angry spammer made up this stuff about how I "make a woman do my fighting for me" because he couldn't get me on the phone, 12 years ago when I worked for a spam filterer. Or the guy who thinks that it's appropriate to call me a pedophile because he doesn't like that I talked about some specific spam issue on my blog. And I don't really do anything but blog. Can you imagine how much more and how many more crazy people would hate me if I was actually blocking their spam?

A representative from a known brand sending mail through a known, respected email service provider is a far cry from a crazy person. They're generally good folks all around, for sure. They invariably ask if Spamhaus is painting them with the same "crazy brush" by declining to provide names and contact information. They sometimes assume so, and this makes them upset. But, I always explain that I don't think that is the case. My guess is that it's not that Spamhaus is painting them all with the same brush. My guess is that Spamhaus is just being smart. The fewer people that know the backend details, the smaller the chance there is that some of it could leak to somebody, then to somebody else, then to somebody else, and then on to a really bad guy who might try to attack somebody.

Heck, I wish I knew more about the internal workings of Spamhaus myself, but I don't really fault them for playing it close to the vest.


Comments policy: Al is always right. Kidding, mostly. Be polite, please and thank you.

  1. Some years ago. Long enough that I'd nearly forgotten, a noted spammer managed to social-engineer the phone records of someone fairly close at the time to Spamhaus, trying to find the identity of a Spamhaus volunteer. I received several phone calls from said spammer, again trying to social-engineer (and quite badly) contact details of Spamhaus volunteers, and even accusing me of being one.

    The threats are out there and are real. I don't hand out info on the few Spamhaus volunteers I *do* know, and sometimes wish I wasn't privy to what little info I am.

    Bill Waggoner was the spammer in question, IIRC.

  2. Spamhaus has gotten a lot of flack lately due to the increase in their trap network and as a result the increase in SBL listings. Although some of us deal with them on an all to frequent basis I can say that they have always been nothing but professional.

    It is still a challenge when we get those senders who want to contact them directly or want to contact their legal department because they think that it will help their situation.

  3. Unfortunately when my forum ended up on their blocklist and it was due to being 100 or so numerical values away from some spammer ipwise, and the fact that my host didn't even own the ip's in question, it took an act of god to convince them that we weren't affiliated with spammers, so they were far from professional, even hurling insults and defamatory accusations. It was finally resolved by the hosting company but even they were left with a bad taste in their mouth for the Spamhaus volunteers. A vonage line wiht a number that's not near them, on a VOIP system would do wonders to be able to talk to someone and not just get volunteers spouting off about how they are God in an email..

    I have to stay Anon in this comment lest they take action again and block me for speaking out... Which I am VERY afraid of they have threatened it a few times already..

  4. Threatened by Spamhaus for speaking about your experiences, I call bullshit on that. I've never seen that, ever. I've even challenged Spamhaus when I've felt their stance to be wrong, and it's even ended up in the public eye, and it has always been fine.

    On the flip side, I've seen a particular subset of bad guys threaten physical harm to Spamhaus people. And I've seen anti-Spamhaus kooks call me names and post weird stuff about me. And all I do is blog about this stuff, I'm not part of any secret cabal.

    I am not convinced a hotline with a live person would help. In a lot of instances where a deliverability consultant is helping a client figure out and resolve a Spamhaus issue, the client is spitting mad. They say things that they would regret if they said them to Spamhaus -- it would damage the ability to get things done. Lots of "don't you know who we are" and "I'm going to sue you" kind of stuff. It doesn't really help resolve a blacklisting and it just sours the tone of the conversation. In that respect, I think a little bit of separation and detachment is a very good thing.

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