And I'm tired of taking other peoples' word for it that a certain blocklist works well or doesn't work well -- I've been burned a number of times by people listing stuff on a blocklist outside of a list's defined charter. It's very frustrating. And lots of people publish stats on how much mail they block with a given list, which is an incomplete measure of whether or not a list is any good. Think about it. If you block all mail, you're going to block all spam. But you're going to block all the rest of your inbound mail, too. And when you block mail with a DNSBL, you don't always have an easy way to tell if that mail was actually wanted or not.
So, I decided to tackle it a bit differently than other folks have. See, I have my own very large spamtrap, and the ability to compare lots of data on the fly.
For this project, I've created two feeds. One is a spam feed, composed of mail received by my many spamtrap addresses, with lots of questionable mail and obvious non-spam weeded out. I then created a non-spam feed. In this “hamtrap” I am directed solicited mail that I signed up for from over 400 senders, big and small. Now, I just have to sit back, watch the mail roll in, and watch the data roll up.
For the past week or so, I’ve been checking every piece of mail received at either the spamtrap or hamtrap against a bunch of different blocklists. I wrote software to ensure that the message is checked within a few minutes of receipt, a necessary step to gather accurate blocklist “hit” data.
After that first week, here’s what I’ve found. It might be obvious to you, or it might not: Spamhaus is a very accurate blocklist, and some others...aren't. Spamhaus’s “ZEN” blocklist correctly tagged about two-thirds of my spam, and tagged no desired mail incorrectly. Fairly impressive, especially when compared to some other blocklists. SORBS correctly tagged 55% of my spam mail, but got it wrong on the non-spam side of things ten percent of the time. If you think throwing away ten percent of the mail you want is troublesome, how about rejecting a third of desired mail? That’s what happens if you use the Fiveten blocklist. It correctly would block 58% of my spam during the test period, but with a false positive rate of 34%, that would make it unacceptable blocklist to use in any corporate environment where you actually want to receive mail your users asked to receive.
One fairly surprising revelation is that Spamcop’s blocklist is nowhere as bad as I had previously believed it to be. I’ve complained periodically here about how Spamcop’s math is often wrong, how it too often lists confirmed opt-in senders, how it is too aggressive against wanted mail, but...my data (so far) shows a complete lack of false positives. This is a nice change, and it makes me very happy to see. Assuming this trend keeps up, I think you'll see me rewriting and putting disclaimers in front of some of my previous rants on that topic.
If you use or know people who use dynablock.njabl.org, this is important information:
With the advent of Spamhaus's PBL (http://spamhaus.org/pbl/), dynablock.njabl.org has become obsolete. Rather than maintain separatesimilar DNSBL zones, NJABL will be working with Spamhaus on the PBL. Effective immediately, dynablock.njabl.org exists as a copy of the Spamhaus PBL. After dynablock users have had ample time to update their configurations, the dynablock.njabl.org zone will be emptied.
Other NJABL zones (i.e. dnsbl, combined, bhnc, and the qw versions) will continue, business as usual, except that combined will eventually lose its dynablock component.
If you currently use dynablock.njabl.org we recommend you switch immediately to pbl.spamhaus.org.
If you currently use combined.njabl.org, we recommend you add pbl.spamhaus.org to the list of DNSBLs you use.
You may also want to consider using zen.spamhaus.org, which is a combination zone consisting of Spamhaus's SBL, XBL, and PBL zones.
(Editor's note: I'm very happy with ZEN so far. See this post detailing my recent experiences.)
5/22/2007: This information is out of date. Please click here for my latest take on Spamcop's SCBL.
My most recent take on Spamcop, from February 2007, can be found here. In that commentary, I talk about the history of the Spamcop spam reporting service, its current corporate ownership, and my take on how this type of DNSBL works, especially as to how it relates to to the impact against solicited (wanted) mail.
In February 2007, I found that Microsoft is using Spamcop to filter inbound (corporate) mail. By corporate mail, I mean mail to microsoft.com users, not mail to MSN/Hotmail users. This surprised me, because of what I believe are aggressive listing practices on the part of Spamcop. Indeed, how the issue was brought to my attention was by an unhappy person mad because he couldn't send one-to-one mail to Microsoft, because Spamcop blocked it.
Also, back in 2003, I published an article about the ongoing issues I was having with Spamcop blocking opt-in confirmation requests. Back then I found (through some admittedly unscientific survey techniques) that admins using the SCBL seemed to assume that all blocked mail must be spam because Spamcop blocked it. Not a very encouraging find. It was also a bit insulting to be lectured on how confirmed opt-in worked by people who were blocking confirmed opt-in requests, especially considering I've been pushing senders to implement and utilize confirmed opt-in/double opt-in for many years.
Until then, feel free to bop on over to Spam Resource, where I talk about my experience using the Spamhaus ZEN list to tag and filter inbound mail to our abuse desk. I've been quite pleased with the results.
Also of note is that Microsoft is using both Spamcop and Spamhaus to reject mail to their corporate users. (They're NOT using it on MSN Hotmail.)
Update: Find my full review of Spamhaus ZEN here on DNSBL Resource.