Top Document: The Email Abuse FAQ, Version 2.02
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4a. I've been mailbombed - what should I do? Contact your ISP immediately. They can help stop the inflow, and also help track down the source of the mailbomb. 4b. I've received U*E in my mailbox - who do I exterminate? By responding in some kind of abusive fashion, you lower yourself to the level of the person who sent you the offending message. You might also lose Net access through your ISP. There are other ways to fight back; read on. 4c. I've received U*E in my mailbox - what should I do? You could: ask the sender not to send you any more; complain to the appropriate people; just ignore it and delete it. Ask to be 'removed' from their list: Some U*E contains instructions for how to be 'removed' from the sender's mailing list. Usually this amounts to sending a specifically formatted message to a particular address. While this is a relatively trivial task, it is not particularly effective; see the sections "4g. I asked to be 'removed' - guess what? I got another U*E", and, "4h. I asked to be 'removed' - guess what? The message bounced", later in this FAQ, for more on why this method is less than perfect. Complain to the appropriate people: If you send a complaint, be polite, or at least civil. Most times the person receiving your complaint is *not* responsible for the U*E; if you expect their help, a little honey goes a long way. Be sure to include full headers when sending a complaint. Decipher the headers and complain to email@example.com. Several sources on header-ography can be found in Appendix I of this FAQ. Some service providers also have abuse addresses; i.e., firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are on AOL, or another service which engages in filtering, forward to the appropriate address on your system so that they can see where new sources of UBE are, and possibly add them to the list. For AOL, forward them to postmaster and abuse. If you are so inclined, you can do a bit more detective work and possibly find more victi--- umm, legitimate recipients for your complaint. If the message originated in the US, using whois, or a visit to InterNIC at <http://www.internic.net/cgi-bin/whois> or its European counterpart at <http://www.ripe.net> might turn up a few more addresses. Traceroute or a similar tool (tracert from the DOS prompt in Win95) will show the sender's upstream provider; some people lodge a complaint with them also. There are several web sites available that will do a traceroute and display the results; use your favorite search engine to find them. Also, there are usually folks on news.admin.net-abuse.email who are willing to help you decipher headers; be sure to include the complete header in your post. (WSPING32 for Win95 has traceroute and DNS lookups built into it. The traceroute in it is much more intuitive for Windows users. It is available at TUCOWS, and many other Winsock sites. For Mac users, the program "Mac TCP Watcher" has DNS lookup and a traceroue function.) If you have the tools available, you can also block any further email from the source of the U*E. See 'I never want to see another message from UBEs-Our-Biz.com again!' in this FAQ for more information. Just ignore it and delete it: If you only ever get one or two U*E messages, this is a logical and reasonable course of action. When the numbers increase, come back to this FAQ and read about other actions. 4d. Where do these people get my email address? 1) Run programs that collect email addresses out of Usenet posting headers 2) Cull them from subscriber lists (such as AOL's Member Profile list) 3) Use web-crawling programs that look for mailto: codes in HTML documents 4) Rip them out of online 'white pages' directories 5) Buy a list from someone who already has one 6) Take them from you without your knowledge when you visit their web site. For the latest on web browser security issues, see: <http://www.cert.org/> 7) Use finger on a host computer to find online users addresses 8) Collect member names from online "chat rooms". 4e. How do I keep my address off the lists? For a junk-free mailbox, don't browse the web, don't put your email address on a web page, don't subscribe to a large ISP, and don't post to Usenet. In other words, don't use the Internet. Some people have taken to forging their own From: and Reply-to: lines in their posts. They might add an easily-recognized 'spam-block' to their address, or they might use those header lines to tell folks where to look for their real address (usually in the sig). Some attempt to boast of their elitist-Unix-nerd-programmer capabilities by burying their email address in a maze of code. Such measures, while effective, are frowned upon by some as 'giving in' to the bulk emailers. If you do a lot of web browsing, be careful about filling out forms; some outfits take such action as carte blanche to stuff your mailbox. There are also those who sell addresses collected in this manner. Don't assume that because you are visiting the site of a 'reputable company' that this will not happen to you. 4f. I did all that and I still get U*E! Your options are few; your address is probably on one of the lists that gets swapped/bought/sold among the bulk email 'community'. Your only alternative might be a new address. Also, see 'I never want to see another message from UBEs-Our-Biz.com again!' for ways to gird your mailbox against the advancing hordes. There have been several reports of U*E dropping off considerably as soon as someone has stopped posting to Usenet; this may indicate that the U*E outfits are constantly creating new lists, and not reusing old lists. 4g. I asked to be 'removed' - guess what? I got another U*E Not surprisingly, many UBE outfits treat a 'remove' request as evidence that the address is 'live'; a 'remove' request to some bulk emailers will actually guarantee that they will send more to you. For many others, the remove procedure does not work, either by chance or design. At this point perhaps you're starting to get a feel for the type of people with whom you are dealing. Also, getting removed doesn't keep you from being added the next time they mine for addresses, nor will it get you off other copies of the list that have been sold or traded to others. In summary, there is no evidence of 'remove' requests being an effective way to stop UBE. 4h. I asked to be 'removed' - guess what? The message bounced Probably the remove procedure was false. Any remove procedure that tells you to send remove requests to AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy, Hotmail, or Juno is certainly false. The bulk emailers are an unpopular lot; they forge headers, inject messages into open SMTP ports, use temporary accounts, and pull other stunts to avoid the tirade of complaints that follow every mailing. 4i. What about 'Remove Me' web sites and other global 'Remove' Lists? They depend on the goodwill of the UBE-sending agencies to work. That is, the senders must use and honor the lists for them to be effective. There is no evidence that they do so. There is nothing to stop them from -adding- all those addresses to their lists! Also, because UCE and UBE is sent postage-due, such sites are effectively attempting to legitimize a form of recipient-paid advertising; you'll have to decide for yourself whether you want to support such an effort by placing your address there. 4j. List of Basic Administrative Contacts (This section was lifted almost intact from the Net Abuse FAQ) The search for the best person to complain to at any site has led to much speculation and arguments, even among admins at the same site. However, if a message to the original poster doesn't get you anywhere, somebody at one of the following addresses might be able to help. Be aware, though that some of the more experienced and well-financed junksters have their own domains, and simply drop complaints to some of the addresses below into the bit-bucket. Moving upstream may be your only choice. Some specific addresses are listed in Appendix I of this FAQ, under 'Abuse Addresses of major service providers'. abuse A lot of ISP's and network backbones have created 'abuse' addresses for complaints about net-abuse. That's usually the best place to start. postmaster RFC 822, the document which set most of the current standards for Internet e-mail back in 1982, makes it mandatory for all sites which pass e-mail to have a postmaster address so that problems can be reported. The purpose of postmaster has expanded at many sites to include net-abuse, both e-mail and otherwise. Administrative or Technical Contacts If you have access to the whois command, you can type (for example) 'whois example.com' to find out who the administrative and technical contacts are for a domain. This will list their e-mail address, and often their phone and FAX numbers. Whois for InterNIC is available via the web at: <http://www.internic.net/cgi-bin/whois> its European counterpart is at: <http://www.ripe.net> The bulk emailers are aware of this resource as well, and InterNIC does very little to check the integrity or authenticity of the supplied information. So don't be surprised to find contact addresses such as 'email@example.com', and phone numbers that don't work. Upstream Providers Determining who's upstream using email headers can often be confusing -- many people get it wrong, due to their own inexperience or forgery on the part of the sender. U*E is worthless unless it contains some legitimate contact information, though. If you've been around the block vis-a-vis headers, and you're familiar with the whois and traceroute tools, you can probably find the upstream provider. abuse.net Now you can send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, and it will (probably) be sent to the appropriate contact for that domain. Be advised that this is a wholly experimental service. Be sure to visit the web site before sending email to this service; it will explain the what the service does, and how to subscribe to it. You can find it at: <http://www.abuse.net> 4k. I've contacted everyone involved - heard nothing back! Not all ISP's respond to every complaint. With some, this is because the bulk emailer is his own ISP. With others, it is due to the volume of complaints received. Many of the larger ISPs and backbone providers will send an automated response. Don't be offended by this; they are probably deluged with complaints. The more they get, the sooner they'll find a permanent solution, so keep sending them. Also, although the responses are automated, they may still contain specific information; UUNet's replies contain a unique ID number, intended for use in any further communications regarding that particular incident. 4l. I've contacted everyone involved - they told me to go away! Complain to the next step up the chain. If they, too, brush you off, keep complaining anyway. Some of the upstream providers claim no responsibility for the actions of their customers; in lieu of a 'short, sharp, shock', the best thing to do is to keep badgering them. Still other ISPs will tell you there is nothing they can do about such activities; that is pure poppycock. If they happen to be *your* provider, you might consider letting them know what you think of their incompetence/laziness/irresponsibility by finding another ISP. Be sure to tell all your friends. 4m. They told me they canceled the account, but I got another U*E! Some sites have been created for no other purpose than sending UBE. Some of these will do their best to spread confusion about their natures by misleading and outright lying to those who complain. This has included 'removing' offending accounts, only to give the user another account to start over again. Also, some UBE 'operators' use a 'hit-and-run' strategy, getting free trial or 'throwaway' accounts at other ISP's to actually send the mail. In addition to that, forging headers is *extremely* common. At least one UBE'r has been kicked off an account, forged his next barrage with the (no longer valid) address from the ISP that kicked him off, *and* bounced the mail off of that provider's mail server. In UBE, appearances are often deceiving. 4n. I sent a complaint - they said they had nothing to do with it! A) They had nothing to do with it. The headers were misread or forged. 2) They're a bunch of lying, no-good such-and-so's. If you're pretty certain that's the case, send as much evidence as you have to their postmaster and their upstream provider. 4o. I sent a complaint - they responded with threats! See 2) above. Sometimes, threats come from newbies, so simply sending evidence to their postmaster is enough to get them booted. Also, depending on the nature of the threat, other legal measures may be available to you. 4p. I never want to see another message from UBEs-Our-Biz.com again! Some ISPs (MindSpring is one) maintain server-level junk filters. If your ISP does not do this, ask them to consider it. They may also subscribe to the Realtime Blacklist (RBL), which is a list of sites deemed to be sources of net abuse. More on the RBL can be found at: <http://www.vix.com.rbl> AOL also gives its members another tool, keyword 'Mail Controls', to block email at the individual level. Ask your ISP to provide similar tools. Better still, ask them to provide even -better- tools. Some email client programs are equipped with filters which will dump, bounce, or auto-reply to email based on user-defined criteria. Note that this does not prevent the U*E from being received and stored on your mail server until you deal with it. Some email programs will download and act on just the headers; others require the entire message to be downloaded before acting on it. Consider getting a procmail filter set up if your connection method and ISP will allow it. Procmail is a subject in and of itself; some good starting points can be found in The Email Abuse Resource List, found at: <http://members.aol.com/emailfaq/resource-list.html> Also, n.a.n-a.email, .misc, and .usenet often have threads on the latest procmail tricks and stunts. In addition, there is a newsgroup, comp.mail.misc, that discusses procmail among other things.