When I say SPAM, you will most probably think of the annoying unwanted emails INCOMING to your own Inbox, and this is definitely one of the SPAM aspects we have been fighting for a long time and which I am proud we have already minimized very successfully. However, in this post I would like to address another aspect – the OUTGOING SPAM: how it affects you and what is the newest solution we have applied to it.
Since I started dealing with hosting (and probably many years before that), outgoing SPAM has been one of the most troublesome aspects for a hosting company. It might sound strange to you, but the spammers are causing hosting companies (and you, our customers) a lot of troubles, headaches and even migraines. How? I will explain in details below.
There are so many shared hosting servers out there, configured to be able to send email. Each of them hosts thousand of websites, which according to a rough personal estimation, in more than 50% of the cases run a heavily outdated apps like WordPress 2 or Joomla 1.0, with outdated plugins and themes. This situation creates infinite possibilities for the hackers to intrude into a vulnerable account and use the servers' email sending capacity to produce a vast amount of emails concerning Viagra, Cialis and cheap Rolex watches on a daily basis.
When such a scenario occurs the hosting company would usually know about the emails being sent out within 10 minutes or less, simply because trying to send thousands of emails causes serious CPU load to the server. The server admin sees that the load level goes high and logs in to see what causes this, he sees the spam and cuts it. But it is too late as 10 minutes is a lot of time for spamming. On a normal Dual Processor Server with stable network connectivity, 10 minutes would be enough for sending at least several thousands or several tens of thousands of emails. At that point the big troubles begin - your server IP gets blacklisted at various RBL lists. And now none of your users is able to send email messages any more unless the IP is white-listed again. The users of course are not really happy with that misfortunate outcome and start calling you, posting you trouble tickets, angry twitter comments, etc. while you anxiously try to get the IP address white-listed again. Which of course is not an easy task to do, since RBL lists are not maintained for profit and they don't have the best support out there. In fact, we've seen cases when whitelisting an IP address from a specific RBL took more than 30 days and you would definitely not be happy not being able to send an email for 30 days...
Throughout the years we've been on the fight with this problem continuously:
1. We have built an automated monitoring system that allow our 24/7 admin-gurus to react to a high CPU usage and stop SPAM in 45-60 seconds, which is amazingly fast, but … unfortunately still not fast enough, as our servers are capable of sending a lot of emails for that time and it's usually enough to get us and our users blacklisted.
2. Seeing that the speed of solving the problem does not help in many cases, we turn our efforts to preventing the problem from appearing at all. We have invented an in-house solution based on SpamD and spam scores, and invested a lot of time to try to train it properly to stop mail messages, that are likely to be SPAM to go out of our servers. However, having access to data about our servers sending behavior only was not enough to train the tool fast enough.
So, at that point of our fight we met SpamExperts at a conference. They had a booth next to ours and this turned out to be an important meeting. Apart from the fact they are a great bunch of people, they had what we did not – a system that filtered more than 50 million mail inboxes and is already so well developed to recognize outgoing SPAM, that we would hardly catch up with our in-house efforts based on a considerable lower number of mails. We were also intrigued by the architecture of their service and the way it works. So, we tested the solution for several months and it showed great results stopping the outgoing SPAM and preventing our IPs from being blacklisted in more than 95% of the test situations.
So having finally found something we believe has the potential to solve our problem with the outgoing SPAM, we were even more excited to see that the same service will address the incoming SPAM too in the same efficient way. Currently, we have our own in-house build SPAM protection already working quite effectively. Additionally, we also provide an extra protection with Mailfoundry Spam Appliance to the interested customers. However, Mailfoundry has one serious flaw that prevented us from providing it to everyone – it was not easily scalable. On the other side, one of the greatest advantages of the SPAM experts solution is that it operates in a cloud environment and it is extremely easy to add and remove accounts to it. In addition to being much more scalable, the SPAM experts solution also has a very cool cPanel integration, which will allow all our clients to manage their spam filtering, quarantine zone and see various stats on their email traffic.
All these facts lead us to an easy decision: we will start using the SPAM Experts solution. We have already started to deploy it on SiteGround Shared, SharedPlus and Semi-Dedicated plans, applying its protection to both incoming and outgoing mail messages. The solution will be used in addition to our current in-house designed tools and will gradually replace the MailFoundry service. And last but not least - it's going to be completely free of charge for you, the customer.
The SiteGround Mastermind