Despite maintaining a strong anti-spam stance BT has been rocked by allegations that its own servers are "dangerously misconfigured, insecure or abuseable" and are exposing email users to the threat of increased levels of unsolicited mail.
A number of BT customers attempting to email friends and colleagues have been perplexed by their emails bouncing back with a delivery error message but a note on one spam blacklisting site, the Distributed Server Boycott List, explains why this is happening.
"The person who runs the mail server at that address has chosen to refuse email from dangerously misconfigured, insecure, or abuseable servers based on a list that we publish. They most likely did this because blocking mail that originates from servers in our list can significantly reduce the amount of spam that users of their mail server receive."
The problem occurs whenever somebody attempts to email a server which references the DSBL blacklist in its anti-spam configuration.
Kevin Fiske, one BT customer who experienced the annoyance of the blacklisting first-hand, found he was unable to email a variety of servers from any address within his company.
Fiske said: "This has been going on for about a year now and it is an extreme irritant. It has caused us great embarrassment, particularly with one major client who saw the error notification and assumed we must be blacklisted because we have been spamming people, which obviously isn't the case."
"Email is vital to our business," he added. "We would be completely lost without it as the number of times we go on site to visit people has fallen. People now expect to do business electronically but while we continue to see several mails bounce back each week, we are basically stuffed until BT sorts out the problem and gets itself removed from the blacklist."
A spokesman for BT Openworld today confirmed the problem.
"We understand that we have been blacklisted by the Distributed Server Boycott List (DSBL) due to their concerns about a perceived configuration error of BT Connect's mail servers," he said.
"This has resulted in BT Connect's servers currently being blocked by the DSBL blacklists. We do not believe there are any problems with the configuration of the BT Connect mail servers as shown by the fact that they have not been included on any other blacklists. This seems to be a unilateral stance taken by DSBL and we are liaising with DSBL and the ISPs that utilise their blacklist in an attempt to resolve the issue to minimise inconvenience to customers."
A particularly ironic twist in the tale means that Fiske is even unable to report genuine spammers because of this problem.
"In the richest of rich ironies, BT's failure leaves us unable to even report spam that we receive to spamabuse.org because it too uses DSBL as a reference," he said.
Fiske has also been angered by announcements from within BT about its stance on the problem of spam.
"For Duncan Ingram [MD of BT Openworld] to express 'astonishment' at the level of spam is cant of the highest order," he said.
"Ingram's company actually contributes to spamming because it consistently fails to operate its mail servers in a way that prevents relaying."
Another BT customer, Stephen Fleming, told silicon.com the biggest concern with this blacklisting is that contacts or business associates may assume the blacklisting is evidence the BT customers are the ones guilty of spamming. "Fortunately I've not had that kind of response yet but it is definitely a real fear," he said. "We never spam."
Fleming added: "I was underwhelmed by BT's response and I'm now looking for alternatives. I'm not a very happy customer."