BT anti-spam drive backfires on users

Measures to combat spam passing through BT mail servers are also trapping and deleting legitimate emails from BT's ADSL customers

A move by BT to cut out spam passing through its servers has ended up deleting valid emails sent out by some of BT's ADSL customers.

BT introduced the measures, which entailed filtering out and deleting emails that looked like spam, on Tuesday. But the company failed to tell its customers about the new policy and as a result some had their outgoing emails filtered and deleted too.

UK software developer Barwick Systems, which uses a BT ADSL account for email and Web connectivity, was one company affected. However, said network manager Paul Stockton, the company did not discover the emails were going missing until Wednesday, when customers rang to say that emails they were expecting had not arrived.

Initially, said Stockton, BT said the problem lay with the email client his company used. Barwick Systems uses the Eudora mail client with Winroute Pro as an SMTP server. "They said they don't offer support unless we use (Microsoft) Outlook," said Stockton. "I didn't want to get into argument about why we don't use Outlook in our company because of viruses, but told them it was nothing to do with the email client... According to our log files the emails had been sent out and had gone through BT's SMTP server at smpt.btclick.com."

Knowing that the emails had left his building, Stockton now wanted to know where they had gone. The problem was, he said, that every email being sent out through his company's BT ADSL connection had disappeared off the face of the planet.

After much to-ing and fro-ing, Stockton finally managed to get put through to someone who could help. And after sending some test emails, BT was able to tell him what had happened. "It turned out that in BT's attempt to combat junk email, they had added a rule to their SMTP server to check the headers in all emails," said Stockton. "If the received-from part of the header says unspecified.host then it treats them as spam and deletes them."

The SMTP server that Barwick Systems uses, called WinRoute Pro, has this set as a default. "Fortunately there is an option to change this, but we never touched it because we didn't need to, and so the default option was left," said Stockton.

While Stockton said he appreciates the need to combat spam, he said believes this is the wrong way to go about it, and is particularly annoyed that BT did not inform its customers first. "To put a filter like this on your main SMTP server is mad," he said. "How many other companies have lost all their emails because of this?"

BT was not able to respond to requests for comment.


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