CyberTech Rambler

May 2, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:47 pm

James Turner, senior editor of LinuxToday complains in a LinuxToday article that the mail server he has had his out-going email rejected by mail servers around the world for at least three days because the mail server he used has been using was blacklisted by Spamhaus, a leading and reputable non-profit organisation that maintains a list of mail servers chunking out spams.

Mr Turner is indeed an innocent victim in this saga. However, while I share his frustration and symphatise with him, I cannot say that Spamhaus has done anything wrong. To his credit as a journalist, he did presents Spamhaus side of the story. He might had put in his personal opinion on the topic, but that is precisely the point for an "editorial" (or Editor's Note, as LinuxToday calls it).

He compared Spamhaus action as " … banning an entire street from using the postal system because one homeowner was guilty of mail fraud". I believe a better characterization is "quarantine a 3km area in the case of bird-flu outbreak".

As a society, we accepts that some innocent people will be inconvenienced as part of an exercise to contain crime/health risk. For example, if a serious crime, say murder has been committed, the police has the power to detain everyone in the vicinity of the crime if they think the murderer is still in the vicinity. Similarly, if an infectious desease has been detected, people can be quaranteened, even if the quaranteen can actually lead to them contracting the desease. All of these are done in the name of "public good".

Hence, in the name of "public good", I condamned Mr Turner to lose his job-offer.

Hey, the same thing can and will happen to me one day. I just hope I can take it as gracefully as I preach.

Mr Turner also argued that the containment must fit the crime. In this case, Mr Turner has not successfully argued that the containment area (in the form of IP addresses) is too large. Spamhaus' reason for the containment area size is time constrains, severeness of the problem (it is a phising scam) and that the scammer is using mutliple IP addresses. In the absence of a counter arguement from Mr Turner, it sounds reasonable.

Nonetheless, Mr Turner "allegation" that Spamhaus containment area is deliberately made large to generate sufficient complains to the ISP involved in an effort to force the ISP to take remedial action deserve some attention, though possibly in the way that Mr Turner expect. There are a lot of less reputable ISP who does not make stopping spam a priority, as long as it does not "hurt" them. Hence, one really effective weapon is to make sure any spam incidence hurt the ISP. Hitting at their purse-string is a good weapon. It is easy to understand, universally true and quick. In fact, I will go as far as advocating enlarging this containment area if the ISP refuses to act reponsibility. I will personally put in a feature request for a variable size containment area depending on ISP responsiveness if I think Spamhaus have not consider it. Again, all in the name of public good.

More practically speaking, let the industry decides on the correct size of containment which is a trade-off between inconvenience to innocent users like Mr Turner and to force ISP to be responsive. There is no real evident to say that Spamhaus got it right, neither is there any that says Spamhaus got it wrong.

In the war against spamming, we must accept that there will be colateral damage. One day, it might be me that is the innocent victim. However, when that day comes, I must also realize that I had benefitted from the same anti-spamming measure more than the pain it costs me. 

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