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Email/Spam Deliverables Update Part II

Email/Spam Deliverables Update Part II

Email/Spam Deliverables Update Part II

With unsolicited email still very much a hot topic across the Community, I felt it was about time for another update on where we are with regards to the ongoing battle against spam. Since the last update, we've shifted from working on the Manage My Mail tool and email API, to focussing on upgrades and configuration changes that we can make at the server level to help reduce spam volumes and improve the reliability of our anti-spam detection.

Deliverables update

Before going into detail about the newer changes we've made there's a few bits and pieces from the last update that I'd like to recap/follow-up on. More detail about the benefits of each of these deliverables can be found in the post made here. Switch off email to your ‘Virtual Domain’ addresses It's now possible to switch off email to your, or addresses by raising a ticket to our Customer Support team. We've had lots of customers request this already, many of which are now enjoying a spam-free email service by combining this functionality with our offer of a free .uk domain for use with your existing mailboxes. *Please note that we are no longer offering free .uk domains in response to the Webmail Incident of May 2007. Customers wanting to register a domain name should take advantage of the £1/mnth option if their account allows it, or alternatively consider registering with our sister company Just The Name Delete spam automatically If you'd rather receive none of the emails marked as [-SPAM-] then you'll be pleased to hear that we've now made the option available to delete all emails marked as [-SPAM-] automatically before they reach your Inbox or 'Spam' folder. To enable this option go to Email Setting > Manage My Mail > SPAM in the Member Centre. Mailbox Summary This convenient overview of your email settings can now be accessed via the Member Centre using the 'Mailbox Summary' link found within the Manage My Mail tool. Rename default mailbox It's now possible to rename your default mailbox. Just click the 'rename' link next to the default mailbox under the 'Mailboxes' tab of the Manage My Mail tool. Edit the Postmaster Alias If you have a 'postmaster' alias then you should now find a handy 'edit' button in the Member Centre allowing you to point this to another mailbox. Deletion of email in the ‘Spam’ folder In the last update we announced that we would be deleting email in the Spam folder every 14 days as opposed to 30. Following feedback from our customers we've decided to change this to 21 days. This script is now up and running and is deleting email older than 21 days twice weekly. Individual spam settings for each Domain We have now rolled out further changes to the Manage My Mail tool in the Member Centre. This will allow customers to configure their spam settings on a domain by domain basis instead of having one global setting that applies to all of the domains associated with your account. Spam buttons in Webmail The development work to add the 'spam' and 'not spam' buttons to SquirrelMail is now complete. We hope to have these changes rolled to the live platform as soon as they've undergone testing. Username changes One of the deliverables we committed to following the Webmail incident was the ability to allow customers to change their username. We now believe we are in a position where there are sufficient measures in place to address the majority of customers' spam problems without the need to do this. Because of this we have taken the decision to remove the Help Assistant path that was created in order for customers to request this change. Customers still wanting to request that their username is changed are advised to contact our support team who will be happy to discuss your individual requirements. Username change requests in the process of being actioned will be still be honoured so don't worry if you've raised a ticket and are yet to have your details transferred across to your new account.

What's new?

So, what else have we been working on since the last update? Here are some of the changes we've made since my last post... Critical Path Trial As hinted at towards the end of my last post on mail/spam deliverables, we will soon be looking at trialling a third party spam appliance in front of the customer facing mail servers. Last week I published details regarding this trial, along with information on what you need to do if you want to help test the platform when it goes life. Further information can be found over on the Usergroup Forums here. Blocking by Subject One question we've been asked quite a lot of late is why our spam filters are failing to tag what the trained human eye may consider to be obvious spam. Unfortunately, it's not always as easy as this and filtering on specific words is notoriously aggressive and can tie up a lot of system resources. Implementing this sort of filtering at the server level can often result in undesired problems that affect the rest of the delivery platform. Despite these drawbacks our network engineers have pulled out all the stops to allow us to block messages by identifying certain words in the subject line of an email. This may sound like a relatively small piece of work however it has required a lot of time and effort so congratulations to those who made this happen, and thanks as ever to customers for their feedback. At the moment we're blocking any email containing one or more of the following text strings in the subject line: ^.*wondercum.* ^.*MegaDik.* ^.*WonderCum.* ^.*Wondercum.* We're looking for feedback regarding these changes, so if you find that you're still receiving these emails or have suggestions for any other subject matter you think we should be blocking on then feel free to contribute by posting to our discussion forums. Clam Upgrade On Friday we rolled out an updated version of one of our anti-virus/anti-spam engines (clamspam/av) across all of our mail delivery servers. Clam processes have been known to freeze in the past which causes email to become 'stuck' and the mail queues to start rising and create the potential for email delays. Monitoring of the platform since the upgrade suggests that this work has had a positive impact on the performance of the platform. This will reduce the amount of time our housekeeping team need to spend keeping the mail queues in check and allow them to focus their efforts elsewhere.

So what next?

We are continuously looking at improving the spam protection we offer and there's plenty more in the pipeline. Here's some of the things we'll be looking at over the coming weeks... Improved Trend Reporting and spam loggingWe recently completed work to improve the spam reporting we have in place across the mail platform. This will help us determine how successful future changes are, and helps us to identify natural increases in spam across the Internet as a whole. We're discussing the possibility of converting this data into customer facing statistics that we could make available on the portal. A good example of the sort of thing we're looking at can be seen at MessageLabs website here. Per user statistics are also something that's being looked into. Introduction of additional blacklists When an email is sent to your address our mail delivery servers will perform a lookup using a number of third party lists to ascertain whether or not an email is spam. If it is the email is dropped and there is no attempt to deliver it to your mailbox. We have recently reviewed the lists we use and based on both our findings and feedback from our cutomers a proposal has been made to add the following lists to our configurations: - lists IP's which by policy should not be sending email directly to the MX servers of third parties. This list contains addresses that have been confirmed as being used for purposes other than the sending of email. - maintains a list of known and potential spam sources. This includes open relays, open proxies, open form to mail HTTP gateways, dynamic IP pools, and direct spammers. - a list of dynamic IP addresses. Running a mail server on a dynamic IP address is not a good idea to begin with and it violates almost all ISP AUPs. This list includes cable modems, dialup modem pools and DSL address space that has been identified as dynamically assigned. We would like to assure customers that we would never block email using lists likely to result in false positives. Whilst you may currently receive some emails incorrectly marked as [-SPAM-], this is due to the nature of the filtering we apply at delivery and not the filtering we apply based on the aforementioned lists.

Other stuff

Whilst no solid commitment had been made at the time of writing we are also considering the implementation of a number of other spam prevention measures including, whitelisting/blacklisting and improving the processes we use for training our Bayesian filter (DSpam). We'll post further details should there be any significant developments in these areas if and when we have them. Kind Regards, Bob
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I've been helping the people I've recommended to PlusNet, to set up the various anti-spam measures. I've realised that, although there are various help pages, there's nowhere that will help a "basic computer user" to change things like catch-all, IMAP spam folders etc. A series of step-by-steps, all linked to from one page which gives advice about which options to use, would be very helpful I think. Even then, I'm not sure some of the people I've been helping would be capable of implementing the solutions. I'm personally pleased with the options available, particularly that they are options and not compulsory, and that they are explained and "open" and don't use things that impose limits (e.g. a fix that only works with Outlook Express, or a 3rd-party blacklist that we can't get out of).