What is a dot-zero listing?
Some email blacklists focus solely on allowing their users to block mail from problematic sources. Others aim to reduce the amount of bad mail sent and prefer senders clean up their practices, rather than just blocking them wholesale. The Spamhaus SBL is one of the second type, using listings both to block mail permanently from irredeemable spammers and as short term encouragement for a sender to fix their practices.
All a blacklists infrastructure – and the infrastructure of related companies, such as reputation monitoring services – is based on identifying senders by their IP addresses and recording their misbehaviour as records associated with those IP addresses. For example, one test entry for the SBL is the IP address 22.214.171.124, and the associated record is SBL230. Because of that they tend not to have a good way to deal with entities that aren’t associated with an IP address range.
Sometimes a blacklist operator would like put a sender on notice that the mail they’re emitting is a problem, and that they should take steps to fix that, but they don’t want to actually block that senders mail immediately. How to do that, within the constraints of the IP address based blacklist infrastructure?
IP addresses are assigned to users in contiguous blocks and there’s always a few wasted, as you can’t use the first or last addresses in that range (for technical / historical reasons). Our main network consists of 128 IP addresses, 126.96.36.199 to 188.8.131.52, but we can’t put servers on 184.108.40.206 (as it’s our router) or 220.127.116.11 (as it’s the “broadcast address” for our subnet).
So if Spamhaus wanted to warn us that we were in danger of having our mail blocked, they could fire a shot across our bow without risk of blocking any mail right now by listing the first address in our subnet – 18.104.22.168 – knowing that we don’t have a server running on that address.
For any organization with more than 128 IP addresses – which includes pretty much all ISPs and ESPs – IP addresses are assigned such that the first IP address in the range ends in a zero, so that warning listing will be for an address “x.y.z.0” – it’s a dot-zero listing.