Plug pulled on anti-spam project

The open relay database closes after its effect on spam becomes diminished
Written by Richard Thurston, Contributor on

A popular anti-spam service is shutting itself down, saying it is no longer effective at protecting organisations from junk email.

The Open Relay Database (ORDB) was set up by volunteers five years ago, shortly after the dot-com boom ended. It aimed to stop spammers using SMTP proxy servers — also known as open mail relays — to flood the internet with junk mail.

These proxy servers were initially used as 'middlemen' to move email from source to destination rather than sending them directly over the internet. As a consequence, they could be used to send large amounts of junk mail with little chance of detection.

ORDB distributed a blacklist of servers that operated as open relays, so that administrators could block email from these sources.

But the ORDB has recently stopped growing, and its volunteers' interest waned. While five years ago, around 90 percent of spam was sent through open relays, now the figure is less than 1 percent. Much of today's spam is propogated using botnets, which are networks of compromised computers.

The announcement that it had decided to close came on Monday.

"We regret to inform you that ORDB.org is shutting down," said the ORDB in a statement. "The general consensus within the team is that open relay RBLs [relay blocking lists] are no longer the most effective way of preventing spam from entering your network as spammers have changed tactics in recent years, as have the anti-spam community."

The ORDB said organisations should remove its checks from their mailers immediately and consider other methods of spam filtering. It recommended a combination of greylisting and content-based analysis, such as the dspam project, bmf or Spam Assassin.

Another organisation that creates blacklists of spammers has also been in the limelight recently.

Spamhaus, a UK firm with a global customer base, was ordered to pay over $11m in damages to a company it blacklisted, which claimed the move was illegal. 

But it is not just the ORDB and Spamhaus which have found it difficult in their quest to tackle spam.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), the privacy watchdog, admitted to ZDNet UK earlier this month that it had not successfully prosecuted any UK spammers, despite regulations designed to curb spam being brought in three years ago. The ICO says it lacks powers to combat spam, and blames its lack of power on the UK Government.

In the meantime, spam levels are still soaring. According to email security vendor IronPort systems, 63 billion spam messages were sent each day in October 2006, compared to 31 billion per day in October 2005. November saw two surges that averaged 85 billion messages a day, one from 13 November to 22 November, the other from 26 November to 28 November.

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