Friday, October 02, 2009


We seem to get blocked a lot. But we love our ISP!

A progressive activist mentioned to me that her organization's email tended to get blocked a lot.  From her perspective,  all these Internet companies (ISPs) are the same, and they're "warring" over spam emissions with nobody doing anything to clean it up.  But we already know all ISPs are not the same.  A single web query showed what was really wrong at her ISP.  (I looked up her domain at the link four paragraphs down from here.)  I replied something like so.The problem is your Internet company sends a lot of spam and doesn't know it.  That's because their contact address for that is broken.

There is a simple, widely recognized standard for contact addresses. It was published by the technical governing body of the Internet a dozen years ago, and it only formalized a tradition that was a dozen years old then. The standard is called Internet Engineering Task Force RFC2142. It says if you run a domain where there are things that can be abused, you are supposed to have an "abuse" email address on that domain for reporting said abuse. And you're supposed to have "postmaster" for reporting email issues.  It's common sense to have a standard for that, and the IETF is the body that publishes standards like that.

Now, people who have no idea how the Internet works will tell you that there are no standards, or no standards body, or the real standards body is some corporation (Google, cisco, Microsoft...) or "RFC just stands for Request for Comment, they don't really mean anything."  But that just shows their ignorance. The Internet works because people who know what they are doing voluntarily comply with the IETF's RFCs, including 2142. It's the greatest demonstration of functional anarchy, as far as I know, in all of human history.  A voluntary association of network operators who agree to run their networks so that they're all compatible with each other.

IETF RFC2142 is so important in tracking and dealing with email abuse that there is a clearinghouse which keeps track of domains that fail. Unfortunately, the volunteers who set it up chose its name poorly, so that people who don't understand how the Internet works don't take it seriously, or even take offense at its name! Nevertheless, has outlasted much more corporate or "professional" operations like Mail Abuse Prevention System, Open Relay Database, and plenty of others.

My fellow activist's ISP's domain name is listed at In fact, I submitted the evidence for that listing! I do that when I can't figure out where to report spam from a network, because its standard contact addresses bounce my spam report. I report most of the spam that reaches my mailbox, maybe a dozen a day. (I use tools. It's quick.) I report one or two domains to RFC-I each day, on average.

She said, "But every week there are a couple of new [ISPs blocking us], or old ones that were once fixed that pop us again and have to be dealt with."

That's happening because her ISP has not been good at controlling spamming from its network. When the RFC2142 addresses don't work, or are listed as not working, you don't get the most detailed and timely reports. So you take longer to discover a spam source on your network.

Not that an RFC-I listing is the be-all and end-all of ISP ratings. But it tends to be a remarkably reliable indicator. Top-notch ISPs are hardly ever listed, with a handful of very large exceptions, while low-ballers and bumblers usually are.

Everybody gets in block lists occasionally. Verizon blocked all of Europe for a couple of weeks. But if it's happening regularly, your ISP really is doing something wrong.

Sorry if that's not what you wanted to hear.

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