Feeds

Hotmail's antispam measures snuff out legit emails, too

No warning, little recourse

Remote control for virtualized desktops

Hotmail users and email server admins, beware: you may be unknowingly caught in the crossfire of Microsoft's war on spam. Unintended casualties include legitimate emails from domains with well-established reputations, which are systematically blocked with absolutely no notice and little recourse.

The chief culprit is the inaptly named SmartScreen, a proprietary spam control technology the software Goliath rolled out to great fanfare several years ago. While the filtering mechanism appears to be making some headway in eradicating Viagra come-ons and nasty phishing attempts, the victory comes at a price: an untold number of legitimate emails are blocked with no warning to either sender or intended recipient.

Compounding the indignity in this well-intentioned campaign, these aggrieved admins say, are Microsoft support people who offer canned responses that acknowledge a domain's email is being blocked but lack the resources to fix the problem.

The complaints come as the spam epidemic continues to fester, with unsolicited email comprising as much as 80 percent of all email, according to some studies. The price we pay in lost worker productivity and increased expenses for network providers are well documented. Less understood is the toll spam is taking on perfectly legitimate communications that go missing with nary a word. Microsoft managers say the spam threat requires they take drastic action and they are working to ensure their new techniques don't block benign messages.

El Reg has corresponded with two admins affected by SmartScreen and has run web searches - here, here and here - that suggest there are plenty others who are experiencing the same problem. In the cases we've checked, these servers are behind domains that are a year or more old, are correctly listed in the DNS and have solid SPF records - excluding the most common reasons a mail server might get blacklisted. They also run on a variety of platforms (including Sendmail and hMailServer), suggesting technical problems with a particular server are not the cause.

One of the admins is James Firth, founder of a UK-based IT consultancy, who began noticing emails sent from his company's relay were uniformly failing to be delivered to recipients with Hotmail accounts.

"They weren't going to a user's Junk mail box, nor were they being bounced," Firth says. "They were simply disappearing!"

So Firth began corresponding with Hotmail support people. After five days of back and forth, a Microsoft employee named Bobbi confirmed that emails sent from Firth's domain, daltonfirth.co.uk, were being "hard filtered" by SmartScreen. And not because they violated some documented technical requirement or contained suspicious phrases that triggered content filters. Rather, they failed to pass conditions buried deep inside SmartScreen that support people declined to share with Firth - out of concern the disclosures would allow spammers to bypass the defenses.

The support team suggested Firth confirm the emails complied to Hotmail technical standards. Firth checked, and they did. The support people also suggested Firth consider enrolling in a fee-based, third-party accreditation service called Sender Score Certified (price tag, according to a different source: $1,400 for the first year). He declined because Microsoft made no guarantees that doing so would solve his problems. More than a week after first discovering the problem, Firth still can't send emails to customers with Hotmail addresses.

"I simply can' believe that someone thought that this was a good idea, and think Hotmail users should be warned that Microsoft are choosing not to send their emails to them!" he says.

Remote control for virtualized desktops

More from The Register

next story
Download alert: Nearly ALL top 100 Android, iOS paid apps hacked
Attack of the Clones? Yeah, but much, much scarier – report
Broadband sellers in the UK are UP TO no good, says Which?
Speedy network claims only apply to 10% of customers
Virgin Media struck dumb by NATIONWIDE packet loss balls-up
Turning it off and on again fixes glitch 12 HOURS LATER
Yahoo! blames! MONSTER! email! OUTAGE! on! CUT! CABLE! bungle!
Weekend woe for BT as telco struggles to restore service
Fujitsu CTO: We'll be 3D-printing tech execs in 15 years
Fleshy techie disses network neutrality, helmet-less motorcyclists
Facebook, working on Facebook at Work, works on Facebook. At Work
You don't want your cat or drunk pics at the office
Soz, web devs: Google snatches its Wallet off the table
Killing off web service in 3 months... but app-happy bonkers are fine
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
5 critical considerations for enterprise cloud backup
Key considerations when evaluating cloud backup solutions to ensure adequate protection security and availability of enterprise data.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence
Download Choosing a Cloud Hosting Provider with Confidence to learn more about cloud computing - the new opportunities and new security challenges.