ISP Relationships


Delivra has a new whitepaper written by Ken Magill talking about the value (or lack thereof) of relationships with ISPs. In Ken’s understated way, he calls baloney on ESPs that claim they have great delivery because they have good relationships with ISPs.
He’s right.
I get a lot of calls from potential clients and some calls from current clients asking me if I can contact an ISP on their behalf and “tell the ISP we’re really not a spammer”. My normal answer is that I can, but that there isn’t a place in the spam filtering process for “sender has hired Laura and she says they’re not a spammer.” I mean, it would be totally awesome if that was the case. But it’s not. It’s even the case where I’m close friends with folks inside the ISPs.
I’m pretty sure I’ve told the story before about being at a party with one of the Hotmail ISP folks. There was a sender that had hired me to deal with some Hotmail issues and I’d been working with Barry H. (name changed, and he’s not at Hotmail any more) to resolve it. During the course of the party, we started talking shop. Barry told me that he was sure that my client was sending opt-in mail, but that his users were not reacting well for it. He also told me there was no way he could override the filters because there wasn’t really a place for him to interfere in the filtering.
Even when folks inside the ISPs were willing and able to help me, they usually wouldn’t do so just because I asked. They might look at a sender on my request, but they wouldn’t adjust filters unless the sender met their standards.
These days? ISPs are cutting their non-income producing departments to the bone, and “sender services” is high up the list of departments to cut. Most of the folks I know have moved on from the ISP to the ESP side. Ken mentions one ISP rep that is now working for a sender. I actually know of 3, and those are just employees from the top few ISPs who are now at fairly major ESPs. I’m sure there are a lot more than that.
The reality is, you can have the best relationships in the world with ISPs, but that won’t get bad mail into the inbox. Filters don’t work that way anymore. That doesn’t mean relationships are useless, though. Having relationships at ISPs can get information that can shorten the process of fixing the issue. If an ISP says “you are blocked because you’re hitting spam traps” then we do data hygiene. If the ISP says “you’re sending mail linking to a blocked website” then we stop linking to that website.
I have a very minor quibble with one thing Ken said, though. He says “no one has a relationship with Spamhaus volunteer, they’re all anonymous.” This isn’t exactly true. Spamhaus volunteers do reveal themselves. Some of them go around openly at MAAWG with nametags and affiliations. A couple of them are colleagues from my early MAPS days. Other do keep their identities secret, but will reveal them to people they trust to keep those identities secret. Or who they think have already figured it out. There was one drunken evening at MAAWG where the nice gentleman I was joking with leaned over and says “You know I am elided from Spamhaus, right?” Uh. No? I didn’t. I do now!
But even though I have the semi-mythical personal relationship with folks from Spamhaus, it doesn’t mean my clients get preferential treatment. My clients get good advice, because I know what Spamhaus is looking for and can translate their requirements into solid action steps for the client to perform. But I can think of half a dozen ESP delivery folks that have the same sorts of relationships with Spamhaus volunteers.
Overall, relationships are valuable, but they are not sufficient to fix inbox delivery problems.

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  • […] Laura Atkins has responded on her inimitable blog Word to the Wise “ In Ken’s understated way, he calls baloney on ESPs that claim they have great delivery because they have good relationships with ISPs. He’s right.” on that we are all agreed, and then Laura goes on to explain the value of the professional and personal relationships she has. To kid yourself that Laura would not be able to resolve issues faster than someone without those contacts and the breadth of knowledge she has would be foolish. […]

  • “If the ISP says “you’re sending mail linking to a blocked website” then we stop linking to that website.”
    Do you have any tools for this?

  • i really wish, that everyone would work honestly. especially those guys, who tell other guys what’s happening around. or who’s the bad one. and this definately would include both journalists and spamhaus editors, so called volunteers. i know quite well, that there is a code of conduct for jounalists, and it’s not quite voluntary to stick to it. sometimes it might contain rediculous lines, like “do not take interviews form criminals during crime doing”, however, in most countries/regions it states clearly – you should not lie. even if paid for it. i just wander, if SH has such a code, as their policies, posted on their websites are constantly broken. maybe i’m just one unfair and unhappy, but i do not have a privilege of knowing someone from SH. so, when one of my clients sells some resources to hell-know-who, who resells them to whenever bad boys there might be, i know, i have really huge problem. even if there is really no spam sent from my (or my clients) IPs, and no spamvertised sites are hosted, still someone decides that entire network has to be listed, because one of its neighbours has been spotted as hoster for some malicious entiety. and who cares, if hosting agreement with end user was broken as soon as ISP found out, that something bad is hosted there. actually every single incident is analysed among ISP staff and affilates, especially for the purpose of not stepping onto the same rake. and you know – honestly – that does not help. i wish, it was a black-white thing for ISPs, for they could just throw the switch and stop all activity from their users, but it’s not gonna happen, ’cause it just does not work that way at ISP. it is almost never a “disconnect that client, the issue will be solved” type choice, as “that client” quite often is an ISP (thou smaller one) himself. and see, usually it’s not an ISP choice to post/host/send or not any/something specific, it’s a single end-users choice, and ISP tries not to interfere with ALL it’s users, and tries to minimise damage to its users. if one could just nail that badperson down at once and for ever – it might be OK. if one has large reseller network, it just might not end that easy.
    if you ask, why i’m so sour – here is my story. i am rather small ISP – like under 50 clients, almost all – dedicated servers or VDS farms. one day a reseller runs an advertising campain, gets a couple of dozens new clients, one happens to be a spam-affilated skript-kiddie. we (together with reseller) sort it out after first abuse report, however – it takes some days – up to a week – to get know about that problem. then you get rid of said enduser – but another reseller has got another skript-kiddie (this time writing trojan horses) as a client… then – bang-bang, you have two incidents in two weeks in your network. and guess, what happens then? yes, one of your reseller resellers (recently acquired through said campain), resells hosting to some guy from netherlands who claims that he’s legitimate pills seller. canadian pharmacy affilate. no spam sent. domains not in spam blacklist. no problems, just a catalogue of medications. in some days we (i, and bunch of my resellers) discover the _hard_way_, that said client has been lying. and you know how? hence it’s third incident in a month – _all_ our direct clients, all who are announced through our AS, (i.e. bandwidth clients, even with their own ASes), and even all neighbouring ASes get blacklisted. and you know what else? comment to those “escalation listings”, stating that you’re lazy asshole not reacting to abuses (despite all reports answered, and all issues solved/closed one way or another) and intentionally selling resources (bandwidth/services) to _known_spammers_. listings that go to that unlucky affilate of yours are not deleted, despite of fact that enduser machines are shut down, http traffic is filtered out and redirected to warning banners. two years ago it costed me like 20 local colocated clients and half a year of writing each week to well known “delist” address only to get one human reply, that actually stated that instead of filtering downstream content and cleaning (and enforcing policies on endusers) i must drop one of downstreams alltogether, or else – escalation will include my upstream and all of _his_ neighbours. And guess what choices my upstream (Telia) left to me then ? now it’s almost the same stroy – only i know my clients much better than 2 years ago, and i am completely sure that abuse was never intentional for any of ISPs involved. after all, nobody will risk a sure thousand per month for extra 10 bucks (or even 5 hundred) even one time.

By laura

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