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Is Email Flawed By Design?

By Desmond Liao | 3 minute read

Last week
Sarah Palin’s personal email account being hacked raised concerns about webmail security. Although
we covered this in our hugely successful trickle blog earlier this year, it might be worth talking about how things have gone wrong.
We’ve become used to receiving email within seconds. If you know somebody sent you a message, you expect it in your inbox immediately but that is not always the case. The problem is that spammers and anti-spam systems are constantly negotiating for your server’s attention.

As anti-spam systems get more accurate, spammers have to send more to improve their chances of getting through to us. Blocking spam with a hard pass or fail system doesn’t make sense for new, but untrusted senders in the grey area.

Blocking separates spam from good email. High connection volume is harder to defend against and can take a damaging toll on your network causing deliver delays for hours sometimes. The problem is a typical email system works in a queue. When spam traffic is high enough, it clogs your network and crowds out good mail.
For businesses hosting their own on-premise email servers, filtering everything is incredibly expensive because:
a) You have to add more server hardware to keep up the CPU required to process all that mail
b) IT staff are dealing with spam maintenance when they could be working on more proactive projects
c) Support complaints pile up when spam outbreaks reach hosting customer inboxes
d) Overloaded servers impact the timely delivery of good email
Email is processed in the order it arrives, on a first come first served basis. Imagine if you had to do every task in your day in the order it arrived. This gives you an idea of how email servers work. When spam clogs servers, the mail queue is too busy analyzing spam meanwhile good mail is forced to wait. Wouldn’t it be nice if good email had a special lane expedited for delivery and skip lengthy queues?
When a new spam outbreak happens, it can take 10-30 minutes for spam labs to identify and distribute updates to filters. Enough time for spam to flood servers. Most people can drop a lot of the bad senders using DNS blacklists and reputation filters drop a lot of the spam but it takes minutes or hours to update DNSBL’s to block the latest botnets.
Whether you’re managing Sendmail, Postfix or another mail server,
email traffic shaping reduces your email volume by 90% or more and pools your mail server to handle more than 25,000 concurrent connections.
We’d love to hear your comments. Let us know your biggest gripe about ’email.’

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