Auto-responders considered harmful
Published: Sunday 2003-12-14.
In an attempt to stop spam, some people have started using a system that require the recipient to confirm his or her existence for the first mail to be delivered (so called TMDA). This system is broken by design — the vast majority of spammers fake the sender address. I get a lot messages like this every day, and even though I have filters that will throw away most of them (many megabytes a week), several slip through.
Reply To: email@example.com
To: random characters @softwolves.pp.se
Date: 10 Dec 2003 23:53:41 -0000
Subject: Please confirm your message
Your e-mail message with the subject of "PAR1S H1LTON Movie - It shows her boyfriend sucking on he d pgwkr" is being held because your address was not recognized.
To release your message for delivery, please send an empty message to the following address, or use your mailer's "Reply" feature.
This confirmation verifies that your message is legitimate and not junk-mail.
[ This notice was generated by VisualMail 4.0 TMDA, an automated junk-mail reduction system. ]
I’d rather call it an ”automated junk-mail system”.
Something else that is very usual is the automatic bounce telling a person is on vacation. If it is badly configured, it will bounce all messages, including spam.
From: "Vipond, Jonathan" <
To: Judy Hancock <random characters @softwolves.pp.se>
Date: Sat, 13 Dec 2003 10:25:36 -0500
Subject: Out of Office AutoReply: coalition check out this diet quad re
I will be out of the office on Thursday, December 11, 2003 and Friday, December 12, 2003 on various client matters. I will have no or possibly limited access to email and will have my cellphone at
xxx-xxx-xxxxif you need to reach me. I will also check my voicemail occasionally at xxx-xxx-xxxx. If you need immediate assistance, please contact my assistant Linda Weibley at xxx-xxx-xxxxor at firstname.lastname@example.org my colleague Jude Musselman at xxx-xxx-xxxxor at email@example.com. Thank you.
Above email is for intended recipient only and may be confidential and protected by attorney/client privilege.
If you are not the intended recipient, please advise the sender immediately.
Unauthorized use or distribution is prohibited and may be unlawful.
A reasonable vacation bouncer will only bounce to trusted addressees, but both problems really stem from the same thing, that vandals are using the openness of the Internet to send their crap to everyone and his mother. In a perfect world, neither TMDA nor spam filters would be necessary, there it would be just as easy to stop advertisements in e-mails as in regular post (here in Norway I go down to the post office and ask for a sticker to put on my letter box) or telephone (adding myself to the list for people who do not want advertisements). Or, even better, I should have to ask to receive advertisements to receive any.
I am starting to feel that it is time to give up e-mail as a communications medium and switch to something else, something better. SMS, perhaps? But the messages there are a bit too short (and expensive), and it’s not free of spam, either. At least I haven’t received any advertising MMS messages yet, but I assume that will come, too :-(
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