New Spamcop Traps Raise Old Issues

Spamtrap operators play a valuable role in the email ecosystem. As stated in “M3AAWG Best Current Practices For Building and Operating a Spamtrap”, spamtraps are “designed to capture any sort of email abuse.” A well-run spamtrap network can identify many types of email abuse, from the very malicious – botnet command and control centers – to the mostly harmless but annoying – email marketers who are inadvertently sending to the wrong subscribers. In order to remain effective, spamtrap operators must frequently update their networks to ensure that they are adequately capturing enough data to identify abuse. As such, many spamtrap operators are continually preparing new traps which they can begin using at any time without warning.

Last week, Spamcop turned on some new spamtraps, and many senders have seen their trap numbers rising or have been listed on the Spamcop Blocking List (SCBL). I’ve received a number of questions that I wanted to address here.

Q. What exactly did Spamcop change?

A. According to our Spamcop contact, they turned on two new groups of pristine spamtraps. One is new and the other is older but had been out of use for over a year due to hardware issues.

Q. Why would Spamcop do this without notifying the sender community?

A. DNSBLs, spam filters, and mailbox providers almost never notify senders prior to making changes to their filtering systems. Doing so would also notify the malevolent senders, which would cause the system to be much less effective. It is important that senders are always prepared for spam filtering changes and ready to respond quickly.

Q. Shouldn’t Spamcop give senders some time to adjust to the new metrics before listing on them?

A. The objective of a spamtrap operator or DNSBL is to identify and limit email abuse. Over time, some senders learn how to avoid hitting traps on a network by selective removal of suspicious domains or addresses. When a spamtrap operator turns on new traps, those senders bubble up to the top quickly, because they haven’t addressed the root cause of their abuse. They are still sending mail to people who didn’t ask for it, because they have poor list collection practices (list rental, list purchase, email append), have not implemented confirmed opt-in (COI), are mailing to inactive recipients, or are not processing bounces correctly. Rather than offering these senders time to adjust, the spamtrap operator feels justified in listing these senders that are not following best practices.

Q. I’m listed on Spamcop and don’t know how to proceed. What should I do?

A. Ideally, you will implement confirmed opt-in, remove recipients who don’t engage for some period of time (no longer than a year), and ensure you are correctly processing bounces. Only by addressing the issue holistically will you ensure that you are not sending unsolicited mail (and therefore not hitting spamtraps). If you purchase or rent lists, practice email append, choose not to implement COI or not to stop mailing inactive recipients, you leave yourself vulnerable to future listings.

If you have significant spam trap or other data quality issues, work with your Return Path Account Manager or find out how you can engage with a Professional Services expert to diagnose the root cause of your list hygiene issues.

Spamtraps are not the problem – they are a symptom of the problem of poor list acquisition and list management. Treating the problem by suppressing parts of your list until you’re no longer hitting traps does not address the root cause of the issue and will not solve the problem in the long term. The only way to ensure safety down the road is to address the problem itself by following best practices of list acquisition and list management, including implementing COI, removing inactive recipients on a regular basis, and correctly processing bounces.

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