Results

Forefront Online (ie, us) has come a long way in reclaiming its outbound reputation. The question now is this – has it worked? I will report on some anecdotal evidence.

The Good

To determine whether or not we have gotten better, I prefer to check 3rd party sources. While we may think that we are doing a better job, ultimately, the recipients of our mail will be validating this. In September 2008, I attended a conference where one of the other participants reported on reputation hijacking, and how it affected the big 4 web mail providers – Microsoft, AOL, Google and Yahoo, or MAGY for short. Microsoft was not the worst offender, but FOSE was the worst offender of outbound spam within Microsoft, and was the single largest source of reputation-hijacked mail of the various subgroups within MAGY. We got to work implementing a series of changes. Five and a half months later, in February 2009, we won the “award” for the most improved outbound IPs; in fact, we were one of the cleanest of the entire MAGY source IPs.

Another monitor of outbound sender reputation is ReturnPath. In September 2008, two of our data center IPs were rated 55 on a scale of 1-100. In other words, we were bad. In February 2009, two of our IPs were rated 90 and the other two were rated 95. We had improved dramatically. Since then, we have bounced around a little bit as we deal with the occasional spam outbreak, but we never drop back down to the 50s or 60s.

The Not-So-Good

Unfortunately, fighting outbound spam is a non-stop battle. We have new outbreaks of outbound spam at least once per week. These outbreaks have gotten larger and larger over time, not smaller. We have had several large web mail providers (not MAGY) block our outbound IPs even though we have outbound spam filtering in place. This suggests that new outbreaks do get past our spam filters.

Furthermore, our reputation according to ReturnPath has dropped back to down to the 70’s. While it is not as bad as it was late last year, it is not as good as it was earlier this year. Compromised customers are still costing us our reputation.

Summary

To summarize, cleaning up our reputation has worked. It is not yet perfect, but it substantially better than it was 18 months ago. We can react quicker to spam outbreaks and we have technology to avoid impacting our service when we do have problems. Our spam detection algorithms have improved over time and we are confident that as time passes, we will get even better at keeping our outbound pool clean.

The key pillars of outbound spam are three-fold:

  1. Make sure that spammers are isolated from people with good behavior
  2. Cut off the offending customers
  3. Frequent monitoring requires a lot of granularity

It is not easy keep your reputation clean, but it is worth the time and effort put into it.

The end… for now.