Creative Spammer Harassment

Time for another technology related post.

More of a rant, really.

Spammers Are Creative

Anti-spam technology has improved greatly over the last few years. I’m as pleased as the next technophile to find less spam in my inbox. Sadly, lately I’ve been getting less email overall.

And that my be a problem.

You see, I’m not getting all my email. I’ve had several incidents lately where people have sent me important emails and they have vanished. These emails are occasionally in my spam box, but more often no where at all.

How does this happen?

When you send an email, it goes through an out-going email server, through various nodes on the net, and then in through the incoming email server. Anywhere along that path, a message can be flagged as spam.

If it gets flagged by the outgoing server, then the email never leaves the host. It will show as sent, but it never left the first stop on its journey. The recipient will never know it existed.

Imagine if you were paying an important bill and you took it to the local mail drop off. You mailed it, so the bill is paid, right?

Nope. Not if someone comes along with a truck and drags off the mailbox before the postal worker comes by to pick up the mail.

But I’m Not a Spammer!

It seems that my personal email address has been reported as spam. I’m blacklisted on some servers. I don’t send out newsletters or bulk mail from that address.

This isn’t a situation where my email violated rules.

Of all my websites, Deleyna.com has been subjected to the most aggressive attacks. My site is bombarded constantly. Thankfully, I have some very good protection. I would have expected this to happen to my Deleyna.com address, but that isn’t it. This flag is on my personal GMail address.

How Spammers Create Chaos

I found this by accident while researching a client’s missing outgoing emails. Her website stopped sending out emails completely. The technical support rep explained that the domain had been reported as sending out spam. He researched her history and agreed that her newsletters (strictly opt-in) should not be considered spam. Then he surprised me. He said that my personal address (I’d been using for technical support contact) was on the list as well.

Anti-spam works by matching an email address against a curated blacklist of known spammers. It is easy to mark incoming mail as spam, thereby adding another report to the servers.

This works tremendously well.

So well that the spammers are having to get creative to combat it. Their latest trick is to skim legitimate email addresses and to report those addresses as spam.

I suspect some of the addresses may be coming from several of the well known data breaches that have happened over the last few years. These are the same attacks that have us all scrambling to have unique passwords for every site we use.

I know my personal address was victimized that way along with millions of others.

The spammers are inserting legitimate email accounts into the blacklists. I can only imagine the chaos this is creating in the anti-spam databases.

I’m not overly worried. At some point the anti-spam folks will create an algorithm to clean the lists. But in the meantime, these spammers have created a new way to make our email lives miserable.

If you sent me an email and I didn’t respond, you’re probably on the list as well.

How to Check if You are Blacklisted

If you are sending email through your website, you can check your status using MX Toolbox.

If you are sending from an email provider like GMail or Yahoo, then you will need your friends’ help to find and resolve the problem.

The only way you’ll know this is happening is if you communicate with your friends without using email and ask if they received your email. If they did not, then have them check their spam folder. If they find your email there, then you’ve very likely been reported as a spammer. (There are other reasons: sending spam-ish sounding messages being the primary one. Remember, all emails are scanned by computers as they travel. If an algorithm doesn’t get your particular brand of humor, you can be flagged by mistake.)

How to Fix This

If you find your domain listed on a blacklist via MX Toolbox, follow the link to the list and request removal. If your email isn’t leaving your hosting company’s server, call technical support and ask them for help.

But if the problem is with your GMail or Yahoo address, you will need your friends’ help. When they find your email in their spam folder, it is critical that they mark the message as “not spam” in whatever way is available to them. (Some hosts label the button as “not junk” or with some other clever phrase.) If your friend is tech savvy, they can create a filter on their email with your address marked as “never send to spam.”

Both of those actions not only move the message into their inbox, but they also report your address as “not spam” to the appropriate lists.

Because these lists are intended to stop spammers, there is often no way for you to request that your email address be removed. Think about it: if that worked, the spammers would just ask to be removed.

Website hosting companies have a bit more control because they deal with whole domains that may be flagged. They use business tools that allow them to help their clients when appropriate. That is how my client’s email got fixed…mostly.

But now, her email (and occasionally mine!) winds up in people’s spam boxes. The only way out of that box is with a little help from friends.

A little help here? If you see my email in your spam filter, mark it as not spam. Maybe take a moment to check for other friends’ emails as well. Who knows? You may be next.

The Optimism of 9/11

Anyone who lived through 9/11 remembers where they were when they heard the news. I’m no exception. I was sleeping in after a fun weekend with my kids + 1. (Raised as an only child, I love it when there are extras.)

The phone rang.

My husband an I ran an aircraft maintenance shop. The future was bright and the days where full of children’s laughter.

The phone call was from a Civil Air Patrol member. His voice brought me instantly awake. Usually the most laid back customer, he said simply, “We need our plane in the air. Now.”

Normally I would have tried to calm him down, because you never push someone who is fixing something you intend to fly. But that tone in his voice was military. Commanding. Serious. Focused. Determined.

“I’ll call the shop. I’ll have them give you a status.”

He hung up without saying goodbye. The commander wasn’t being rude. He was simply on to the next task.

I dialed the shop and heard that determined focus echoed in my husband’s voice.

“Civil Air Patrol needs their plane,” I started.

“Tell them we’re almost done. We’ll have it ready.” And I knew he’d rushed the job even before the call.

“Why?” I asked in my last moment of innocence. “Why do they need it rushed? They have other planes.”

He was silent for a moment. “You haven’t heard,” his voice was almost a whisper. “There’s been an attack. News is still confused, but… It’s bad. Turn on the news. Stay home.”

A haze of dread seeped into my bones as I turned on the television and watched those horrific images along with the rest of the world.

I’d always been an optimist, but something broke in my heart that day. The kids struggled to understand. I heard the beeping of pass alarms in the background of the broadcast and my heart broke.

As the wife of a volunteer firefighter, I knew what that noise meant long before the media caught on. Firemen were trapped somewhere that rubble. A lot of them. I’m sure I cried, but most of that day fell into a blessed haze of shock.

It was a year later, watching a memorial of 9/11, when the clip was played where a journalist asked someone near him what that sound was, when my heart finally came to grips with the overpowering emotions. I ran from the room and threw up, crying in choking sobs. So many gone so suddenly.

We were at war. But perhaps not the one everyone associates with 9/11.

The War on Optimism

I’d just taken the kids on a trip to Canada a few days earlier. Such a simple trip would never again happen that easily, that spontaneously, that innocently. Borders closed, and security increased.

My 9/11 image, the one that struck me and lives on in my nightmares did not happen until weeks later.

You see, 9/11 shut down our airport, cutting the foundation out of our business. All around us was silence. That CAP plane stayed on the ground with all the others at our airport for months as the government decided if it was safe to allow planes in the air so close to Seattle.

I was at work in the eerie quiet that should never be heard on an airport, when a low drone began in the distance, slowly growing closer. The noise grew and what passed for work stopped. We walked out onto the ramp and looked up. The air was vibrating.

A flight of maybe a dozen military transport planes flew overhead, low and slow. It was a terrifying sight. I’ve worked on a military base, but I’d never seen more than one of those mighty aircraft at a time before that moment or since.

And I knew, we were at war.

Nothing would ever be the same.

Flash Forward

It’s been 15 years. Before 9/11, I didn’t let my boys play with guns. After 9/11, we made sure they knew how to shoot. I’ve watched one son take his oath into the military. I’ll watch another soon. I’m proud of the way they’ve grown up: serious, focused, determined.

The shop did not survive 9/11, although it took a few years for us to surrender. Like the twin towers, it took a while for the terrible reality of the structural damage to be seen.

We lost almost everything.

Before 9/11, I lived in a world of optimism. The future seemed bright. And then in an instant everything turned dark, the future hazy and ominous.

Now we live in a world of danger. People thrive on dystopian fiction. Terror attacks are common. Young people scoff at how naive we were back then.

Lately I’ve been searching for the optimism that I misplaced that day 15 years ago. I want it back.

We’ve rebuilt our lives.

Anyone who knows me knows the last few years have been particularly hard. And yet, the future begins to seem bright again. The smoke is clearing.

Finally, I find my heart being restored. I’m still serious, focused, determined. But maybe there is just a hint of optimism in the air.

World Trade Center

Bunny Poop

I love roses. It’s a bit early, but this morning I realized that it was time to fertilize. Thus began my annual stress of getting enough of just the right kinds of fertilizer for my roses. It’s an investment, but I hate wasting money on the wrong stuff. I got out my notes and reviewed what I needed.

As the day wore on, I went to clean out the bunny cage. See my cute bunny? bunnyShe’s actually an evil creature with a wicked bite. I got her as a trainer fiber bunny. (Not much fiber, easier than an angora, and yes her fur spins up luscious when mixed with wool and alpaca.) As I was cleaning the cage, I remembered a friend talking about the wonders of bunny poop as fertilizer. It was one of those half-heard conversations that take a while for my brain to process.

I certainly had enough bunny poop to fertilize all the roses. (I’m a bad bunny mommy and the cage needed cleaning badly.) A bit of research and I discovered that bunny fertilizer would be delightful for those roses. No skimping this year!

While I was dancing happily around the rose garden spreading pellets of goodness, it occurred to me that there is probably a metaphor here. How many times in my life have I been shoveling out the manure dropped on me while struggling to make ends meet in another area?

Bunny poop. May be my new catch phrase for life.

We’ll see how the roses like it.

 

Watch out for the Edge.