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What causes Spamhaus CSS listings

Today’s Wednesday Question comes from Zaib F.

What causes the Spamhaus CSS listing in your experience other than Sender using multiple sets of IPs, to look as if they are a valid sender. Do you think a Spamtrap plays a role?

I’ll preface this by saying I don’t know what the specific Spamhaus criteria are for listing on the CSS. I do know the overall goal of the CSS list is to catch snowshoeing. I also know some general things about how Spamhaus works. Spamhaus has access to lots of different email feeds that they use as data sources for their various lists. I believe that Spamhaus feeds are built around email addresses that are kept private. I do not believe Spamhaus uses those addresses to sign up for mail, nor do they ask or encourage other people to add those addresses to lists. Spamhaus has access to other types of data like BGP feeds and tools to organize and visualize the data.
Snowshoeing is where the sender uses a large number of IP addresses to send mail to avoid reputation based filtering. There isn’t a specific line between responsible mailing and snowshoeing. But it’s usually clear when a range is being used for snowshoeing.
Snowshoe spam isn’t just about a single email (or a few emails) being received. It’s about a pattern of identical emails coming from a range of IP addresses. It’s about rotating domains in the From: line with the same email content. It’s about random domains that don’t relate to the sender, or the ESP or the brand. It’s domains hiding behind proxy services. It’s mail that is clearly from the same templating engine, selling very different products. It’s rotating reverse DNS. It’s a lot of little things, none of which are problematic by themselves but put together indicate that the IP range might just be infested with spammers.
The direct answer to your question is: Yes I think spamtraps play a role in CSS listings. I think that mail sent to addresses that didn’t request the mail will trigger investigations. But it’s not the trap hit, or the mail to a person, that causes a CSS listing, though. A spamtrap hit is neither necessary nor sufficient for a CSS listing. It’s the technical characteristics and the behaviour that causes a range to be listed on the CSS list.
I’ll also point out that some of the ISPs also have CSS like detectors and they will block, defer or otherwise deal with mail from ranges that they think are sending snowshoe spam.
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