The BondedSender Program (BSP) con.

I don’t know how this happened, but for some reason the antispam community seem to have walked right into quicksand. Why?   Well, consider this: If you existed to come up with ways to stop spam, you would think that implementing a way to establish trust relationships with sender would guarantee* that they wouldn’t send you spam.

* – No there are no guarantees.

Well recently a configuration option within SpamAssassin caused me alarm since it was occurring more frequently in spams that were getting through to me. Looking into the RCVD_IN_BSP_TRUSTED score I found that spamassassin gave it a -4.3 weighting which unless the email is particularly spammy, it means the net score for that email will result it it being classified as non-spam.  Trouble is – this is spam, so why is spamassassin being so nice to it?

Looking it up, I ended up at The Bonded Sender Program .org (this is the Internet friendly face) which "turns the spam problem upside down by identifying legitimate email traffic".  Oh?  Further reading shows that the BSP has a corporate side that companies pay the BSP (read: IronPort, who also happen to own and run SpamCop) so their emails get positively flagged as non-spam.

Am I the only one spotting the delicious conflict of interest?
1. Spamassassin catches spam
2. Users report spam to SpamCop
3. SpamCop blocks spammer.
4. Spammer has less success because their servers are blacklisted

Now SpamCop, aka IronPort, aka BSP goes to spammer "Pay us a wodge of cash and we can make sure a) you don’t get flagged as spam, and b) your servers can’t get blacklisted". Sounds like a sweet deal.  Why wouldn’t any spammer go for it?

In any other industry this would be blackmail. e.g. Mafia: "Pay us your insurance so you can be sure you or your shop doesn’t meet with an unfortunate accident".

Now the BSP apparently takes abuse of their system very seriously.  I beg to differ.   I reported an instance of abuse, to which the initial reply sounded positive, but that same customer is still spamming away.  I shall post some example spams that BSP claim isn’t spam as comments.

So, anyone reading this.  If you use Spamassassin, add this to your user_prefs:

Companies or Email senders – if you hit this page whilst researching about using the BSP, then please don’t.  It is a dirty way to get your message across – if anything it will make people like myself even more vehemently outspoken against you and your products.

BSP/SpamCop/IronPort – if you want to regain some credibility, perhaps you will take your abuse reports seriously and actually kill off those customers who do use you as a ticket to get spam through.

This is my personal opinion based on my experience of spam emails I have received via the Bonded Sender Program.

Opinion: Qmail is dying.

Today is a sad day, and it is sadder still that I feel I should write this article.

Many years ago, when we were all much younger, the skys were cleaner and bluer, kids went outside to play in the street instead of staring at a flickering 14" tv and playstation, you could leave your door unlatched and we all used Sendmail as our MTAs. Life was good.

Then Bad Stuff[tm] started happening, we started getting spams, and sendmail was found wanting in the security dept many times.  There were alternatives popping up, but when you are hooked into also providing UUCP feeds, your options are extremely limited.

Then in 1997 I discovered Qmail, with the promise of security, modularisation and simpler administration. So I launched headlong into replacing our sendmail install with Qmail.  I ended up with a functional hybrid of installing Sendmail for UUCP and overlaying Qmail to do the SMTP/POP3. All in all this worked well for many years while we weaned everyone off UUCP.

So, why am I saying Qmail is dying, and who am I to make such an assertion?  Perhaps a few credentials are in order.  I was a reasonably early adopter of Qmail back in 1997 and when I started there were no documents or howtos on setting it up in an ISP type environment. All you had was DJB’s INSTALL file, which was a pretty basic set-up for system account users.  The man pages were pretty poor and involved a spot of trial and error to work out many things.   To this end, I wrote the first  published document on setting up Qmail, called the Qmail Single UID Howto which has been used by thousands (if emails are anything to go by) of sysadmins around the world.

Up until a couple of weeks ago, I continued in my die-hard attitude of Qmail can do anything, but increasingly of late, I have found it harder and harder to do what I need it to do.  Yes, we can all hook in spamassassin and antivirus scanners, but other more fringe issues just aren’t there yet.  Specifically a test install of greylisting using greylisting-spp and qmail-spp (which incidentally looks like a great system that needs greater buy in from the Qmail community) refused to let qmail processes exit and sucked cpu – solidly killing my colo server.  I had to drop the qmail-spp and greylisting idea.

Next up is SpamCop.  Now I’m no great fan of SpamCop’s arbitrary "we say it is bad so you must obey" style, but Qmail’s architecture falls fowl of one of SpamCop’s rules that says you should not accept email for a user that doesn’t exist.  With the deluge of spam (with forged smtp envelope sender addresses) the net result is Qmail will say ‘Sure send me the email’ but reject it at the local delivery stage causing a bounce to be sent back to the envelope sender address.  SpamCop deems this as "spamming" the poor unfortunate schmuck who’s email address was Joe-Jobbed to send you the spam.  Worse, Spamcop has several "traps" set up that will cause your mail server to be automatically placed onto their blacklist if a trap receives any such bounces.  Qmail simply doesn’t do recipient verification in qmail-smtpd (which is why qmail never supported VRFY, ever).

Added to this, again in my opinion, Qmail’s author Daniel J Bernstein has effectively signed Qmail’s own death warrant by (1) Not supporting qmail in the past several years, and (2) Refusing to donate the code out to the community under say a GPL or Apache style license.   I am not disputing his right to do so. Dan is perfectly within his rights to retain his code.  I am simply stating that the current position means anyone with plans on using Qmail will find themselves less and less supported to the point that maintaining Qmail systems (evolving with the times, e.g. adding IMAP, or the next big thing) becomes an untenable proposition.  That said, I have a lot of respect for Dan and his achievements and the quality of his work.

I also do not want to use this article to promote any alternatives to Qmail.  Not out of fear of being called a fan-boy (I believe, if anything I have proven I was big proponent of Qmail), I am simply mourning the passing of, what was, a great MTA. Suffice to say, there are now much better supported systems out there.

Qmail, R.I.P.  I shall miss you.

Edit:  If you came here from the qmail at eight criticism of this article, please read my response.

Bypassing “registration required” news sites.

Ever been passed a url link to a news media site only to find it requires you to register or login to read it?   Usually I just switch off and deign it to not be worth the hassle and move on with life. 

Now I know there are sites such as and they create generic logins to share for the community and on the whole works very well.  I’ve used it in the past, and I’m not intending to promote this idea as a replacement or better than it.

However, tonight it occurred to me – if I pretend to be google, perhaps it’ll not ask. Now some 6 or so months ago, I switched to using the Firefox web browser from Internet Explorer (tired of popup and security hell) and I was undergoing some training that required the use of IE to login to the training site, and separately to interact with the product I was training on. Using IE for both at the same time was awkward, so I downloaded the User Agent Switcher Extension and used it to fool the training site into believing Firefox was really IE. It worked flawlessly.

Now back to the present day, so I add an entry in User Agent Switcher by clicking:
Tools -> User Agent Switcher -> Options -> Options, click User Agents and click Add.
Then for Description enter "GoogleBot" and under User Agent enter "Googlebot/2.1 (+" all without the double-quotes.

Clicking back to the link I was given: and yeehaw! no login.

Also interestingly, Google doesnt serve up any AdWords if you tell it you are Googlebot.

Stupid memes ?

Tonight I found out what a "meme" was.   I was prompted to look it up by reading Mark’s post over on his site.

Now with all the stuff in the news about Identity theft and how easy it is to assume someone else’s identity, is it really wise to be giving out information about the contents of your wallet?

Ironic funny

No idea if this is true or not, I suspect not, but it is funny all the same, with a clever twist from the author that hasn’t been mentioned yet…   This arrived in my mailbox:

letter of complaint received by the B&Q customer services department.  B&Q
were the major sponsors of Ellen MacArthur…

Dear Sir/Madam

My congratulations to you on getting a yacht to leave the UK on 28th
November 2004, sail 27,354 miles around the world and arrive back 72
days later.

Could you please let me know when the kitchen I ordered 96 days ago
will be arriving from your warehouse 13 miles away?

Yours Sincerely

John Roberts

After a bit of googling I came up with google cached page (now gone, but here is a different link) that points out a John Roberts happens to be Facilities Manager at B&Q HQ :)


This morning I had a few hours to kill with the kids while the missus was getting her hair done so I headed down to Boucher thinking I could check out a few car showrooms, but the lure of the new-ish development with Matalan and TKMax proved more enticing.

I’ve never been into either of these stores (these ones in particular, or any others of the same name) so I thought it was worth checking out.

TKmax was fine, reminded me of Poundstretcher and nothing much to write home about so we went to Matalan which was a bit more of the same.  Except for some Spider Man underpants my son took a liking to, so off we trot to the checkout.

Assistant: Do you have a Matalan card?
Me: No, it’s ok (thinking pretty much every store these days offers you a store card)
Assistant: You can’t buy anything without one.

Now, paint me pink and call me princess, what the fuck?   This has to be a joke.  Now I’m concerned about privacy as much as the next Joe, I am aware of the data mining capability and that they’ll be able to tell when I’m likely to buy, and quantity of, and sizes, of every school uniform for the next 14+ years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a nut who refuses all these cards, I’ve got my tesco and boots cards, the boots card comes in very handy in buying my sandwich when I have no spare change saving me a trip to the ATM.   But when someone *requires* me to have one I draw the line… so

Me: Excuse me?
Assistant repeats: You can’t buy anything without one. (and proceeds to tear one off a paper card handing it to me to fill in)

Transaction complete, he hands me my receipt and the shiney new Matalan card which I promptly hand him back with a "Please bin that".   I’m even surprised that he looked shocked at my behaviour.

So, my one and only expercience in Matalan is likely to remain my one and only experience.  However, should the occassion arise again I think I’ll do the same thing, perhaps someday they’ll rethink stupid policies such as this.

Freedom of Information, Request #1

Tis that time of year when my car tax disc is up for renewal, and it being so close after christmas means it is a hefty whack (�165) to find.

So, I’m thinking, I can pay my TV license, Council Rates and most other things via monthly Direct Debit, so why not my tax disc?

So I plan on finding out

I’ve sent a request to the DVLA under the new FOI rules to find out.
Subject: Request documents pertaining to deliberations on VED payment methods

I write to request documentations from the dept on discussions, meetings, etc
specifically on the methods of payment available to the public when paying
for Vehicle Excise Duty (VED, Road fund License, Car Tax).

Specifically, any reference to monthly payment options discussed, rejected
or otherwise planned for the future along with any expected introduction dates.

Thank you for your attention in this regard,

Paul Gregg

I’ll let you know what I find out.

Surf Automatic – Removes 99 “top” stains.

Anyone else noticed, on the back of the Surf packet, that they list 99 different substances that Surf will remove from your clothes.   So, I thought of the one thing my kids’ clothes always has and looked for it on the list…

Nope, no reference to Chocolate.

End of useless blog post.

Chip and Pin – Excuse me?

If you like in the UK or Northern Ireland, you’re probably finding that, instead of writing your signature, you are being asked to enter your PIN on a little keypad when you use your debit or credit card to make purchases.

Now, please forgive me if I’m way off the mark, but how is this supposed to increase security?  Seems to me that we have simply replaced one flawed system for another.

Flawed?  How so?  Well, in "the old days" scammers used to run your card through a magnetic strip reader and they could create "cloned" copies of your card.  The data would be written onto a fresh, blank card and they could sign the back whatever way they wanted.  The criminal would then go use your card in a store to pay for goods and the signature would be good. And you are out of pocket.

Now, they are asking you to enter your pin.   Excellent – now they also have your PIN number – how they get it via electronic interception between the keypad and the device,  over the wire, or by "shoulder surfing" – doesn’t matter.  Joe Crim now has your pin.  They also have a swipe of your card (all the shops I’ve used my card in so far with "chip & pin" have both swiped it and put it into the pin keypad).   So, not only can they burn the magstripe onto a fresh card and use it, they can pop it into an ATM and withdraw cash directly from the account with my PIN.

Lovely, who comes up with these ideas?

Referrer spam – a possible solution?

Ok, so referrer (HTTP_REFERER) spam is really starting to get on my wick^H^H^H^H goat (does anyone say wick anymore?), so after adding the latest ip to by referrer spam blacklist firewall the following potential solution hit me.

Give the spammers what they want.  They want people to click on the links that they are spamming, so why not.   Sounds like madness? No, let me explain.

In the same way we report spam, ala spamcop or other blacklists have a site that you can report URLs of referer spam to.  Submissions would need to be checked by a list of moderators (perhaps in the slashdot moderator/metamoderator style).  Once a submission has reached a certain threshold – e.g. +5 posive votes with zero negative notes then the URL is added to the database.

The latest web addresses are then published in XML format / RSS feed.

Finally, we have a tool which reads these feeds and causes a single "click" download + all images on that page.   It might cost us 10-100KB of bandwidth, but it also costs the spamvertised website.  Now have 10000 or more people using the same tool, all clicking only the most recently advertised websites within 15 minutes of it being added to the database.

You’ve got a website killer right there… sorry, I mean you’ve got a really excellent response rate for the spammer – just what they wanted.

Workable? Viable? Illegal? Does anyone really care?