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links for 2007-12-15

White-lists: an explanation by Charles Stiles

by Charles Stiles (on the Goodmail blog)

You’ve worked hard to build your distribution lists, you’ve adhered to the best practices in the industry and you’ve done what was asked by mailbox providers but your mail still isn’t reaching the inbox.  This is not an uncommon problem; the typical solution is to be put on a white-list.

Blacklists or block-lists are routinely shared among mailbox providers in an effort to combat spam.  White-lists on the other hand are a guarded secret, holding the identification of those mailers that have received “special permission”.  The special permissions may permit your mail to be delivered, may reduce or eliminate spam filtration on your mail or might simply be providing you with false hope.

Why would mailbox providers provide access to something which was apparently so sacred and so carefully guarded?  Frankly, white-lists are intended to address the shortcomings of spam filtration technology.  Acting in the best interests of their customers, mailbox providers will block spam to enhance the user experience.  Unfortunately, the rules for catching spam also catch some legitimate thus a need for an exemption based system.

Just because you’re on the white-list doesn’t mean your mail is getting delivered

What type of white-lists are you on?

  • Location lists – Used to identify your mail server as a localized to a specific location. Some early spam rules treated mail from outside the continental US as highly suspect and blocked in instances delivered in volume.  White-lists were used to exempt certain foreign IP addresses.

  • General identification – Used to assert an identity and attribute a reputation to it, typically uses IP addresses but could use other authentication technologies such as Sender ID Framework, Domain Keys or cryptographic tokens.

  • URL lists – Used to identify specific URL’s in your message as legitimate and not spoof url’s or otherwise malicious.

  • Domain lists – Used to identify a mailer as a recognized legitimate mailer, widespread use early on but has declined significantly due to bogus DNS records

  • Reputation/Accreditation lists – This list uses some form of authentication (generally the IP address) to identify the mailer and either asserts a reputation for the mailer or an indicator that the mailer has passed some form of accreditation.  Mailbox providers may have an agreement in place with the list provider to provide some privilege.

Clearly, the trend is towards reputation or accreditation lists and the best solutions incorporate both. 

Incorporating an authentication mechanism that is not spoofable with such systems is the best case scenario and forces marketers to be accountable for their online actions not just their brand reputation

What this means for marketers is that the white-lists they once relied upon for getting their email delivered are going to become less effective as mailbox providers transition to reputation based systems.

Source: Goodmail

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