Spam blacklist to introduce fees

An Australian spam blacklist will soon be available only to subscribers

One of Australia's leading spam blacklists will soon move to a subscription-only model.

The list, operated by Reynolds Technology, hosts several "zones", or lists, that are maintained by other anti-spam groups such as Spam Prevention Early Warning System (SPEWS), as well as its own lists of "open-relay" servers, but will soon only be available to subscribers because of the increasing costs associated with maintaining the service.

Unlike SPEWS and other black-lists that have drawn fire from irate network operators the world over for being unresponsive to requests for removal from black-banning, Mark Reynolds, the service operator, takes a softer approach.

"The ones that I maintain... they are listing security related issues, where a server has a security problem," he told ZDNet Australia . "Our Web page clearly states that we have a 'no questions asked' removal policy. Anyone can remove an entry through three steps."

By default, users of Reynolds' service aren't set up to query the SPEWS list -- it would just create problems. "I had a lot of customers using [the default, aggregated list] on its own, and it wasn't fair to include stuff that caused havoc," Reynolds said, in reference to SPEWS.

Osirusoft, which hosted the SPEWS "zone", was taken offline in spectacular fashion last month when its operator black-listed the entire Internet after denial of service attacks crippled the service. Many administrators using the Osirusoft service were unable to receive mail because the black-list was in effect telling mail servers that every single domain and IP was a source of spam. When Osirusoft closed down, Reynolds says traffic to his lists went up dramatically.

Reynolds has maintained a service that is, in his opinion, much more professional than Osirusoft and others, which is why he already has publicly listed Australian companies using it. As for the Osirusoft closure, Reynolds says "the people who are left behind who are running professional boycott lists have to pick up the load".

"I think [SPEWS] have a place but for the business market it's not very good. The fact that [the operators] are attempting to remain anonymous makes it very difficult for people," he added.

The evasiveness of the SPEWS operators, which has drawn criticism from all over the globe, is understandable, Reynolds says. "If you look at the legal cases that are brought against boycott list operators, you understand why."

Reynolds dismissed criticism of list maintainers. He says you shouldn't shoot the messenger -- he's just providing a list, and it's up to administrators what they do with it. When asked if that was similar to gun manufacturers saying "guns don't kill people, people kill people," Reynolds said a more appropriate analogy would be to think of information in black lists in a similar way to credit rating information.

The managing director of mail filtering software manufacturer Clearswift, Chy Chuawiwat, told ZDNet Australia that while some black-lists aren't professionally maintained, they are an important tool. "There will always be a place for blacklists... they used to be the big tool -- it's not as big as it used to be but it's still a big tool," he said.

As for charging for black-list services, Chuawiwat says it's probably a good idea. "That way you do get a better service and you have a right to complain... I think charging is the way to go," he said. "That will improve their professionalism and allow them to improve their service."