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GreyListing to fight Spam

June 23rd, 2003 · No Comments

Evan Harris makes a proposal:

It only looks at three pieces of information (which we will refer to as a “triplet” from now on) about any particular mail delivery attempt:

1. The IP address of the host attempting the delivery
2. The envelope sender address
3. The envelope recipient address

From this, we now have a unique triplet for identifying a mail “relationship”. With this data, we simply follow a basic rule, which is:

If we have never seen this triplet before, then refuse this delivery and any others that may come within a certain period of time with a temporary failure.

Since SMTP is considered an unreliable transport, the possibility of temporary failures is built into the core spec (see RFC 821). As such, any well behaved message transfer agent (MTA) should attempt retries if given an appropriate temporary failure code for a delivery attempt (see below for discussion of issues concerning non-conforming MTA’s).

During the initial testing of Greylisting, it was observed that the vast majority of spam appears to be sent from applications designed specifically for spamming. These applications appear to adopt the “fire-and-forget” methodology. That is, they attempt to send the spam to one or several MX hosts for a domain, but then never attempt a true retry as a real MTA would. From our testing, this means that currently, based on a fairly conservative interpretation of testing data, we see effectiveness of over 95%, and that is with no legitimate mail ever being permanently blocked.

This blocking comes with a minimal price from the terms of local resources. Assuming the use of a local datastore for the triplet and other metadata, there is no required network traffic caused by Greylisting other than that associated with the connection itself. Since we are not checking the contents of the message at all there is very little processing overhead, unlike many other spam blocking methods.


Tags: Software

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