BPA List move to Google/Yahoo Groups: Details

Detail: Apparent inevitability

When I have tried to work around the erronenous blacklist'ing by the ISPs, a too common response from their Tech Support Reps is

"You should just use Google or Yahoo groups."
The prevalence of this attitude tells me that "Resistance is futile."

Details: My deduction about the underlying problem

The change is being forced by sloppy and/or overly-aggressive SPAM fighting actions by a variety of the major Internet Service Providers (ISPs), notably AOL, Comcast, Earthlink, Hotmail, and Yahoo.

With increasing frequency, the major ISPs are blacklisting the BPA mail server. The "Customer Service" and "Technical Support" representatives can provide little information on why this is happening.

My observation is that when there is a small flurry of messages to the combined BPA email lists, one of the ISPs will blacklist the BPA server (Interesting aside: There has not been a case when two ISPs blacklist'ed the server at the same time). By "small flurry", I mean 3-8 message in a day or 5-10 messages in 2-4 days. Although there are only 20-60 address from the email lists going to a particular ISP for a single message, their anti-SPAM software apparently decides that these messages (hours apart) represent a SPAMmer attempting to avoid detection by sending in small increments.

  1. The actual thresholds for triggering blacklist'ing seem to vary. This is not surprising - it is common practice in security systems to routinely shift such thresholds - otherwise the miscreants will discover them and design their activity to avoid detection by operating just under those thresholds.
  2. The BPA mail server has a mix of moderated and unmoderated email lists. Since submissions to the unmoderated lists are uncoordinated, it is easy to inadvertently push over the threshold - a couple of people sending a single message each, and a few replies to those messages.

Although the various ISPs claim to provide mechanisms - "whitelisting" - for avoiding erroneous blacklisting, they are ineffective:

  1. Whitelist entries seem to expire within a few months - The Tech Support Reps say they are permanent - experience indicates otherwise.
  2. There is a unpredictable delay in a whitelist entry taking effect, and there is no notification. Consequently, the mailing list administrator has to experimentally determine when it is possible to get messages through to people at that ISP.
  3. Dealing with blocked messages involves unpleasant choices:
  4. Getting off an ISP's blacklist can be a time-consuming task because of inconsistencies and errors in the ISP's database.
    1. I have been on the phone with a Tech Support Rep and been told that there is no blacklist'ing in effect, sent a message and seen it rejected. Because I have seen similar inconsistencies with the automated response systems, I suspect that this is not the Tech Support Rep misunderstanding what the computer is telling him, but rather an inconsistency between different sections of their database.
    2. Similarly, the error messages I am receiving from their mail server are incompatible with the status messages in the database the Tech Support Rep is working from.
    3. Major ISPs have multiple servers for inbound mail and I occasionally see very different results from different servers that are persistent.

Note: With some ISPs, blacklist'ing seems to be temporary - it is removed after a day, or a few days. But I have seen cases where it seems to be much longer term, requiring email and/or telephone calls by the administrator.

Note: This problem is NOT one that you can handle within the mail account of list members by putting the BPA email list addresses in their individual whitelists (called something like "Always Allow" filter) - the blacklist'ing of the BPA mail server occurs before the ISP's anti-SPAM software even looks inside the message (at the addresses of sender and recipient).