Not getting Email

arrrgh-button-on-keyboard-image-from-shutterstockNot getting Email: a reader asks…

For some reason, some people who send me email to my work address aren’t getting through. They are getting reject notices that include a code “550 5.7.1”, and I don’t see anything, not in my inbox nor my junk mail folder. Any advice?

After getting a little more information, this turns out to be a case of an overly-aggressive anti-spam service employed by your work. Your work email is handled by Microsoft Exchange Server, and your IT folks put in place a TrendMicro anti-spam service which looks at all email and stops a lot of spam from getting through. Unfortunately, anti-spam techniques are nearly as primitive as the email technology we use daily – it does a lousy job of identifying what is spam and what isn’t. That’s because there’s really no sort of identity-verification in the email protocols used on the internet. So anti-spam services use the simplest method of identifying spam. In your case, the internet service provider that your rejected friends use was wrongly blacklisted, and TrendMicro picked up on that blacklist and cut them off from you.

spamcannibal-logoEmail blacklists are a valuable resource in the fight against spam, but unfortunately it can be easy to get blacklisted, and darned hard to get un-blacklisted. It’s never up to either the sender or the recipient, it’s up to the email service providers to work out. In your case, you should communicate this problem with your IT folks, perhaps they can tweak the settings in the Exchange Server or with TrendMicro to allow those emails through. You can also let those senders know that they should communicate with their email service provider to complain about their email getting blocked. Hopefully, the senders’ email service providers will take action to fix the problem.

Most blacklists work by listing Internet Protocol (IP) addresses that have been reported as spammers, and anti-spam services use these lists. Spammers are constantly trying to find new ways to get spam out, so they sign up with various email service providers (such as Gmail, AOL, Hotmail, etc.) and start sending spam out till they get noticed and blocked. Then they open another email account elsewhere (this is all automated by the way). The problem is that for the most part, email services are shared by hundreds or thousands of customers of the service provider. One spammer gets them all blocked.

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woman-holding-head-in-anguish-image-from-shutterstockIt’s a screwball situation, but every attempt to change things for the better has failed, simply because the email service protocols (POP, SMTP, IMAP, etc.) work so darn well and are used so universally.  You might have seen secure email services from time to time attempt to get traction, but it’s just too hard to get popular enough to become a universal standard. As a result, many people are giving up on email entirely, and switching to alternative means of electronic communication. Such as:

  • Messaging services – from your phone’s SMS to Apple’s iMessage to SnapChat, tons of standalone messaging services have sprung up.
  • Social Network Messaging – such as Twitter’s Direct Message, Facebook Chat/Group Chat, Google Chat/Hangouts, Linkedin InMail, etc.
  • 3rd party Application Messaging – such as Evernote’s Work Chat, MS Office/Skype messaging, etc.

The problem with all these alternatives is that everybody you know has to use them, and anyone who doesn’t is out of the loop. You can bet that pretty much everyone you know has a telephone, but voice calling is falling out of favor. Same for a cell phone, but many people still have limited text messaging plans and/or don’t use text messaging. Email has become so common, that likely everyone you know has at least one email account. But there are just too many of these other communication services and they’re all free, so it’s harder for competition to weed out the poor ones and let the good one (or few) rise to the top and become universally accepted.

spamhaus-logoTo add to the frustration level, anti-spam organizations (SpamHaus, SpamCannibal, etc.) don’t really care much about making sure they don’t blacklist innocent people, and won’t really help you out. They deal with service providers only. So your first and last recourse can only be to complain to your email service provider. If that doesn’t yield anything, then you should consider an alternate email service provider (Gmail, Outlook.com, etc.).

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