Monday, March 12, 2007

Test message

No, I'm not testing Blogger, but posting about test messages...

Recently I've been having problems emailing my parents, who have a Freeserve account (well, it is now Orange, having moved through Wanadoo). We realised a few weeks ago that emails from me to them have been intermittently vanishing into the ether. There's no hint at my end that anything is going wrong, but when jules sends a message (with the same outgoing IP as me) she sometimes gets a bounce message with a 550 error saying the content is rejected. There is nothing remotely spam-like about the emails, no attachments or anything like that.

A little googling reveals that we are not the only ones with this problem, but I guess it can't be very widespread or Orange would have been inundated with complaints.

My parents have tried emailing the Orange support and got the expected useless boilerplate responses, saying there must be something suspicious about our messages:

> 550 or "Content rejected" can refer to an extended URL embedded in an
> email which runs to 3-4 lines can look like scripting. We block
> scripting in emails as it is often used by viruses along with rare
> attachment filetypes for the same reason. For instance sending an
> attachment which ends in .url will be blocked.
> The common work around with problems with attachments is to enclose the
> attachment in a zip file using the ZIP function in XP. Zip compression
> can be found by right clicking on the file you wish to compress. The
> attachment is normally uncompressed automatically by XP at the other
> end.
> It can also happen if you forward a email from a group email like Yahoo
> groups, the email headers can trigger anti-spam filters. The solution in
> this case is to cut and paste the contents of the email into a new
> email.
> Finally, in order to limit the spread of the MyDoom Virus (and others)
> and to protect our customers, email subject lines commonly used by
> viruses are currently blocked by our mail servers. For example:
> Test
> Hi
> Hello
> Mail Delivery System
> Mail Transaction Failed
> Server Report
> Status
> Error
> The subject line, "Test" for intance will be blocked, however, if words
> are added to the subject line (for example: "Test Results") the mail
> should be delivered as normal.

I particularly admire the moment of inspiration that motivated them to put "Test" on the list for automatic rejection (note that this isn't their relatively innocuous spam labelling system for messages that they consider suspicious, but a kill-at-server filter that prevents the intended recipient from even knowing that a message was sent). After all, no-one would possibly use "Test" as a subject line of a Test email to Test if a system had a problem :-) The genius responsible for that particular decision is obviously wasted on spam filtering and long overdue a promotion to somewhere where he or she can't actually do any harm....

I'd be interested to hear how many others have encountered this problem recently.


Unknown said...

Better get them a gmail account (I can give you an invite in the unlikely event you haven't got some anyway). They can forward all the gmail to their old account if they want to, but it will be accessible via gmail too.

Better still just use gmail and throw away the old one.

William M. Connolley said...

teach me to play around with different google accounts... twas I

James Annan said...

Yes, I've done the gmail thing as a CC backup. They don't really want to change their address though. Forwarding gmail to freeserve won't help as the mail will still get filtered by freeserve!

C W Magee said...

A British friend of mine recently complained about gmail losing messages, even though the rest of us had not problem. Could it be a local effect?

Anonymous said...

I'm getting exactly the same problem with my mother's freeserve account - bouncing utterly innocuous messages back to me with a 505 content error.

Planning to move her to gmail this weekend. Freeserve are gob-smackingly unhelpful.

Anonymous said...

Yes I have just wasted an hour of my life trying to send some friends an update on our lottery syndicate. Freeserve should be taken to court about this, who knows how many people are really affected.