Telewest blacklisted by Hotmail in spam fracas

Blueyonder blunder

Cable outfit Telewest has endured the ignominy of being blacklisted by Hotmail for sending spam.

Earlier this month Hotmail blocked email coming from the mail servers of Telewest Blueyonder broadband service for around 22 hours. During the period of the problem Yahoo mail servers were not accepting commands from Blueyonder's mail servers, stopping the delivery of mail.

Blueyonder users were also informed they might also have problems connecting to Lineone email servers.

Chris Kilian, a problem management analyst at Telewest Communications, told users through the telco's Blueyonder support page: "We are presently being blocked by Hotmail from sending any mail to them from our SMTP (outgoing mail) servers.

"If any attempt is made to make an SMTP connection to a Hotmail mail server, it is immediately being cut off. Any connection attempt from any other public interface (eg web front end servers) is successful."

A number of Register readers wrote to us about the problem, and when we contacted the firm a spokesman said that a blacklisting by Hotmail of Telewest was "a rumour". However he confirmed that "a businessman has been relaying spam through our service and this was stamped out".

The admission of spamming through Telewest's mail servers points to a root cause, suggested to us by our readers, that the configuration of Telewest's servers allowed relaying of spam messages, a common security mistake but a surprising gaff for a service provider to make.

Technology failures could explain the inability to deliver email, but only lax security would explain both the misuse of Telewest's service for spamming and the subsequent blocking - especially in the absence of a credible answer from Telewest.

'Spam relaying', is the process of using third party 'victim' email servers to send junk mail, thereby protecting the spam sender from identification and receipt of angry replies. Spammers also use the technique to offload the work of sending bulk emails onto somebody else's machine.

It is responsible for overloading mail servers and Internet connections, potentially causing servers to crash and preventing the flow of genuine email traffic for the abused organisation.

Since last week we've repeatedly asked to speak to someone from Telewest for comment on whether the inability to send email to Hotmail was due to open relays, but it said a suitable qualified spokesman was not available.

Networking problems with Blueyonder have resulted in a service where users are regularly unable to access news group or browse the web, a subject of regular complaints to The Register which is documented on the service's support page here.

In fairness most of these problems, although occurring on an almost daily basis, are quickly resolved and Telewest is rolling out a program of upgrading its network infrastructure. The question is when will things improve - any answers Telewest? ®

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