How reliable is email in today’s Internet world? Perfect, isn’t it? You would think that it would be completely reliable — we use it all the time. All we’re doing is pushing around electrons and we’ve known how to do that, in one way or another, for an awfully long time.
Whether we are writing to friends, sending a joke, sending a picture, or sending a business message, email has become a part of our lives. We’ve come to rely on it for easy communications. We don’t even understand our friends that don’t “do” email.
However, as we have increased the reliability of the transmission system. We have also increased the noise and the noise filters that we use to keep control. We also have this concept known as “information overload.” We usually hear about information overload with regard to a person being overloaded with the quantity of information they receive — from mail, from TV, from radio, from emails, from web site.
Unfortunately, we also have information overload with routers, email servers, and email forwarding systems. Sometimes, they get so many emails at one time that they get behind. Occasionally, they lose a few. This is one of the biggest dangers (as opposed to the waste of time and resources issue) with spam. Unfortunately, there is not much we, as individuals, can do about that.
Some of the other problems we have with email servers also are caused by spam — more accurately, by the measures taken to try to control or to eliminate spam. Our emails occasionally get discarded by email servers that decide they are spam — even when they are not. If you use an anti-spam program, or if your ISP does, hopefully you have followed my advice from the July 11, 2005 issue of my newsletter. You can read my thoughts about spam (I hate spam!) and how to keep it out of your Inbox.
One of the ways an ISP can try to handle spam is via the white list, grey list and black list system. In this case, emails coming to you from any specific address automatically fall into the grey category. The ISP, if you or it have not already added that specific sender to a blacklist or greylist, refuses to accept the email — it tells the sending email server to “send it later.” Spam-generating email servers don’t take the bounce-back, and don’t send the email again. Unfortunately, some real email servers only try to send once, so you never get that email.
There is a new system that has been gaining momentum over the last year. Each domain owner can declare which email servers actually send emails for their domain. Then, when an email arrives at the destination mail server, that destination server checks to make sure the sending server was an authorized one. If it isn’t, it may delete the suspected spam, or it might flag it and pass it on to the recipient. This system is known as SPF – Sender Policy Framework (http://spf.pobox.com).
It hasn’t caught on really well yet, but it is growing. Microsoft announced that it is going to implement SPF-checking at Hotmail by October 1, 2005. They announced that they would not reject emails initially, but would subject them to further scrutiny and filtering. With the volume of email that Hotmail gets, that scrutiny is probably going to be pretty trivial.
Most importantly, I recommend that you have your anti-spam program flag the suspected spam as spam, but do not let it delete the things it thinks are spam. (or your ISP’s, if it is ocnfigurable for you, like Cox’s is) If you do, you will certainly miss important emails.