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Paternalism gone mad?
January 26, 2005 2:35 AM   Subscribe

US ISP Verizon decided late last year to block any email sent from outside the US. I thought the bounces I was getting from my Verizon contacts were glitches until I googled and found this.

The arrogance of Verizon is astonishing: "If it's really important you might want to make a phone call".
posted by essexjan (44 comments total)

 
If it's really important I might want to consider a better ISP.
posted by loquacious at 2:42 AM on January 26, 2005


Maybe they should only let Verizon members e-mail other Verizon members.
posted by adzm at 2:47 AM on January 26, 2005


Thanks for posting this has been annoying me for some time as it seems the only ones who don't know about it, are the people who use verizon! I keep getting these email-complaints from verizon.com people that they aren't getting their passwords (or whatever) and I have to pass my reply to someone in the USA who then passes my reply on to them. That's effed up.
posted by dabitch at 2:51 AM on January 26, 2005


btw, a tinyurl in the fpp? That won't last long, wrong thing to do.
posted by dabitch at 2:52 AM on January 26, 2005


This is par for the course for the big ISPs, at the web host I work for I have to deal with their shit all the time. The latest fad is to block all email traffic on port 25 except to their own servers, forcing our customers to send mail through the ISP. Of course, they don't bother to tell anyone they're going to do this so every week we get new batches of customers who suddenly can't send their email and don't know why.
posted by TungstenChef at 3:17 AM on January 26, 2005


Ironically, most of the SPAM I get comes from the states, not Europe. Promising me a mortgage, cheap US cigarettes, TiVos and US credit cards and anything else not relevant to Europeans. Wouldn't surprise me at all if some of it came straight from verizon. ;)
Does anyone here use verizon?
posted by dabitch at 3:32 AM on January 26, 2005


Blimey, i can't believe they've done this. Especially as 43% of all spams in July 2004 originated in the US (according to Sophos).

In that article it says the biggest European spam sender was Germany, with 1.28%! Surely it would be wiser to block far eastern / russian IPs before Europe.
posted by derbs at 3:49 AM on January 26, 2005


heh, my boss just asked me friday why he wasnt getting email from his family in Hungary (Verizon DSL @ work) and I said 'some isps block all other countries' which he thought was bs...I will be happy to show him this article today :)

(that is if I actually get to work in the snow today...)
posted by gren at 4:26 AM on January 26, 2005


TungstenChef: indeed OptOnline just recently closed down port 25 much to my dismay....it took many hours of calling to get a straight answer which was ultimately a weak line about protecting us from spam. The only way for me to get port 25 open is to upgrade to business class cable, which has *no* other difference except they keep ports open (and costs twice as much). If it wasn't so damn good, I'd be looking for a different provider...but no one can touch the 10/1Mb speeds I get, so use their outgoing mail servers I shall.....le sigh.
posted by gren at 4:30 AM on January 26, 2005


If it's really important I might want to consider a better ISP.

In many places, Verizon has the monopoly on high-speed internet access.
posted by octothorpe at 4:30 AM on January 26, 2005


Maybe they should only let Verizon members e-mail other Verizon members.

And then they can have James Earl Jones ask if people are 'in'?

Seriously, this is not how to manage spam. It sounds like something AOL would have done circa 1998. I'm surprised Verizon's customers haven't gotten them to change its mind. But most Verizon customers are in contracts and can't leave.

I have SBC and it just stopped blocking port 25 to all of its customers but fortunately my host has another port for its smtp servers. I've never used my SBC email ever.
posted by birdherder at 4:33 AM on January 26, 2005


if port 25 is blocked, you can try to use port 587 with authentication. This works for yahoo's mailservers at least.
posted by bashos_frog at 4:44 AM on January 26, 2005


The Verizon thing is a PITA, though I would have thought that someone would have setup a proxy to be able to go around it

IMHO, it would stop lots of spam if more ISPs would block port 25, only allowing it for customers that specifically requested it
posted by ajbattrick at 5:00 AM on January 26, 2005


ISPs blocking port 25 wouldn't be so bad, if they JUST INFORMED THEIR CUSTOMERS ABOUT IT. We provide an alternate port too, and switching software to that one takes about 2 minutes, but it's ridiculous that they don't tell their people about it. We even get people who called their ISPs tech support and they denied doing it.
posted by TungstenChef at 5:10 AM on January 26, 2005


Well so don't pay them...oh but you signed a one year contract I guess ? Tough deal ! Get some class action ongoing I guess they'll not bother listening to customer UNLESS some very big fuss is made.
posted by elpapacito at 6:07 AM on January 26, 2005


If 43% of all spam comes from inside the US, then that conveniently means 57% comes from outside.

That means a simple change like this would instantly drop over 1/2 of their spam. Considering they probably get 10's of millions of spam messages per day, this is not negligible.

However, doing it "stealth" and not informing the users is obviously the wrong solution.

I'm not entirely sure telling someone to use their verizon account for domestic email and then get a yahoo or hotmail account for international mail is necessarily evil. I think if they had been much more transparent about it, there would not have been this kind of backlash.

I applaud them for trying to do "something" about the ever-rising tides of spam. But someone in the decision making chain surely had enough sense to say "We'll need to tell our customers about this".

The spam situation is never going to get any better until the underlying mail transport mechanisms of the internet are secured. The internet can not function into perpetuity as an "open system" with trusting relays.
posted by Ynoxas at 6:16 AM on January 26, 2005


90% of my spam comes from kornet.net (Korea).... Dropping Europe still lets China, Korea, Russia and Brazil (big spamcountries unfortunately) to reach their users.
Doing something is fine, but screwing up how the system should be working is not doing something constructive, and I at least expect better than that from a large ISP. There are so many ways to stop spam that does not hurt innocent third parties that could and should be used instead. Open relays? Do people still have that in this day and age? Now, that is mad.
posted by dabitch at 6:23 AM on January 26, 2005


Like, um, contracts are TWO WAY deals, or they are void. So they change the service. Blocking emails, IMO, is failure to fulfill the contract. Has consumerism died in America?

A friend of mine had Verizon DSL in suburban Boston. He had crap service and had to write a newspaper to get Verizon to refund and cancel the contract.

Now I wonder how many of my bounced emails in the past month were Verizon customers.
posted by Goofyy at 6:27 AM on January 26, 2005


Ynoxas - Verizon subscribers are not seeing a 57% reduction. Verizon has blocked mainly European networks. I suspect a good portion of that 57% is coming from Asian networks.

I know a way Verizon can easily block 57% of its spam: randomly drop 57% of its incoming SMTP connections.

Dabitch - Open relays are a relatively minor problem these days. The most significant problem is Microsoft Windows systems that have been compromised by worms and turned into zombie proxies.
posted by chipr at 6:37 AM on January 26, 2005


Perhaps verizon users are seeing a 57% reduction in mails from their friends and now they feel unpopular. ;)
posted by dabitch at 6:42 AM on January 26, 2005


The arrogance of Verizon is astonishing: "If it's really important you might want to make a phone call".

Not if you complete the sentence correctly:

If it's really important you might want to make a phone call, cancel our service and move to a different provider.

Now, if you opted to pick the lowest cost provider and not support local providers or you didn't write your congress-kritters to ask that they pass laws that mandate the FCC to enforce equal access to fiber/cable and now you have "go with Verizon or go without" - well, ya dug your own hole that you are now in.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:50 AM on January 26, 2005


Who still uses their bandwidth provider for email? It seems like a really bad solution (change ISPs, change emails). Why not use Gmail or buy real E-mail hosting?
posted by delmoi at 7:03 AM on January 26, 2005


This will not help them in their battle vs. cable ... Comcast refuses to fight them on price and is working to enhance performance instead (bigger bandwith) ... I think this is the right strategy since everyone I know seems less-than-thrilled with DSL performance.
posted by terrier319 at 7:34 AM on January 26, 2005


Disclaimer: I am not an internet engineer.

Open relays? Do people still have that in this day and age? Now, that is mad.

In the US, generally not, except for perhaps independently run mail servers. I expect all US ISPs now comply. But that's not really what we're getting at. In overseas areas, especially those (relatively) recently joining the internet or just now getting private entities providing service as opposed to the government, I fear open relays are still quite common.

Just because top tier providers have closed their open relays does not mean it is now de rigueur the whole world over.

Again, securing the underlying mail transport protocols is the only solution. Everything else can be, and will be, compromised until the protocols themselves are updated. SPF or whatever might work, for a while, but it is a shiny new coat of paint put over an old and feeble chair. There has to be true authentication for senders, end of story. And truly implementing that will take years. This "indirect authentication" of servers does not seem like a permanent solution to me.

As far as zombies go, I have no idea why ISPs aren't motivated to notice excessive mail traffic from customers and contact the customers (they have all their information remember) and tell them they no longer have email access until they clean up their machines.

"Well let's see, Mr. Johnson has been sending an average of 12 messages a day for the past 8 months, and has been sending 12000 a day the last week. Seems normal."
posted by Ynoxas at 7:47 AM on January 26, 2005


Well, aside from all the obvious answers to this (domains are cheap these days, vote with your wallet if you have another option in your area, webmail, class action), the fact remains that this is a messed up way to deal with spam. Then again, customer satisfaction was never in Verizon's business plan.


Now, if you opted to pick the lowest cost provider and not support local providers or you didn't write your congress-kritters to ask that they pass laws that mandate the FCC to enforce equal access to fiber/cable and now you have "go with Verizon or go without" - well, ya dug your own hole that you are now in.

That implies that Verizon's customers are all long-timers, that they had a choice at the time, and that these corporations shouldn't be held accountable for their arbitrary reductions in service.

Not everyone lives in places where there are tons of places to take your broadband dollar.
posted by chicobangs at 7:53 AM on January 26, 2005


Who still uses their bandwidth provider for email?

Almost everyone. It's easy to forget that we informed Metafilterate nerds are not the Internet mainstream anymore. Your Mom is the mainstream. The mainstream often doesn't know about any resources that weren't provided to them either as part of Windows or on a CD from their ISP. And if they do know about them, they often don't trust them or have no idea where to begin.

That last part is serious. I can't count on two hands any more the number of times I've tried to reassure people that installing anti-spyware programs is easy, or to say "Tip number one. Stop using Internet Explorer, start using Firefox," and to be told, "I don't know how to do that. That sounds hard. I'll just wait until Bellsouth/AOL/Comcast/Microsoft/whoever fixes it for me."

Gmail? Yeah, right. I give someone a Gmail invite every time I hear Bellsouth just ate all their e-mail, but they never activate it. "What's this Gmail thing? Bellsouth is my e-mail address. Yeah, I hate it, but how could I have two e-mail addresses? I don't understand."

Those are the people Verizon disables with crap like this. Not you or me, but the people who have no idea how to even recognize a problem, let alone what to do about it.
posted by iJames at 7:57 AM on January 26, 2005


iJames, exactly right. People shouldn't have to learn about buying their own domain or using a separate webmail service when they already pay their ISP. They pay a significant amount, too. Verizon has a monopoly on providing service to many areas, and is willing to fight for it anywhere they can.

If this kind of thing were clearly stated up-front when people signed up for the service, I'm sure more people would take issue with it, but many of the existing customers are stuck in a contract whose terms allow for such insane constrictions and specifically limit the customer's rights to an arbitration-only resolution. They don't have much of a choice. As for new customers, I'm sure this restriction is buried on page A-67 of the Terms of Service document, and is probably worded something like, "Verizon reserves the right to filter and/or classify e-mail based on geography, performing certain actions where appropriate."
posted by odinsdream at 8:13 AM on January 26, 2005


This is more evidence that anybody who cares about their email should buy a domain, and have their email hosted for them seperately from their ISP.

Using ISP email, or free webmail as a main account is begging for trouble, unless you enjoy sending out 'my new email address is' notices.
posted by mosch at 8:15 AM on January 26, 2005


Unfortunately, a lot of people don't realise that most e-mail hosters don't provide an smtp service, and requires that you use your exisiting ISP email.

Some are starting to use authenticated SMTP or ip logging, but it's the minority.
posted by derbs at 8:36 AM on January 26, 2005


Yeah, duh. When I first started using comcast for cable their mail server went up and down faster than a ... well, whatever. I buy an IMAP service, but if someone isn't technically inclined a hotmail / yahoo is better than the isp. Oh yeah, & comcast will sell themselves and change your address at the drop of a hat. I see people with that crap on their business cards and I feel bad for them. Comcast cable in Seattle would have taken you from X@home to X@attbi to X@comcast in the last few years. Yeehaw, great service assholes!

But still, 'tis true most of my family & friends use their isp's email. I try to tell them that anyone who ever changes their email addy is dead to me but the threat falls on dead ears. (Or maybe it just encourages them.)
posted by Wood at 8:39 AM on January 26, 2005


Incredible. I'm glad I don't use Verizon, and now I never will. For anything.
posted by rushmc at 8:40 AM on January 26, 2005


What they should be doing is greylisting specific countries.
posted by kindall at 9:22 AM on January 26, 2005


This smells like a management decision by people who don't understand technology. This is probably the second dumbest way I've ever heard of cutting down on spam (the dumbest is my old company - they changed domains just to get rid of spam).

Meanwhile, simply by implementing free solutions for greylisting, virus and spam scanning on my mail server, I've cut my email traffic down from 1500 virii/spams per day to maybe 20 (and all of those are caught and quarantined in a separate queue for my review). Mail bandwidth is also down by 95%.

On preview: kindall beat me to it. Greylisting is a godsend, and any ISP who doesnt implement it before taking stupid measures like this doesn't deserve to be in business.
posted by chundo at 9:30 AM on January 26, 2005


ISPs should just get out of the e-mail business entirely. Their job should be to provide a connection to the Internet. That's it.

Users should then get their e-mail elsewhere. I use Road Runner for my ISP, but have Yahoo! for my mail, my domain name mail. They have a good SPAM filter, and they know e-mail, because it's something they do.

I think SBC got it right. They offloaded things like e-mail to yahoo, so they could focus on providing a connection.
posted by benjh at 9:30 AM on January 26, 2005


The plural of virus is viruses. There is no such word as virii. God I hate that.
posted by AstroGuy at 9:41 AM on January 26, 2005


Ynoxas wrote: As far as zombies go, I have no idea why ISPs aren't motivated to notice excessive mail traffic from customers and contact the customers (they have all their information remember) and tell them they no longer have email access until they clean up their machines.

This is what Wideopenwest does. Except, they don't tell you they've done it, you just suddenly can't send e-mail. Their threshold is set pretty low, too (I tripped it, and I'm not doing anything outrageous). To be fair, one phone call took care of it and I haven't been shut off since.

Good idea, execution needs tweaking. Unlike Verizon's "anti-spam" plan, which is so very 1996.
posted by QIbHom at 9:46 AM on January 26, 2005


I think SBC got it right. They offloaded things like e-mail to yahoo, so they could focus on providing a connection.

Right in theory. What they got wrong was offloading things like e-mail to Yahoo.
posted by iJames at 9:56 AM on January 26, 2005


Okay, Verizon's on the list of companies to avoid doing business with because they seem to think that they can arbitrarily control who can send me email and who cannot.

Got it.

On a side note, can people from Hotmail email GMail accounts yet? Or has that been fixed for ages?
posted by fenriq at 10:31 AM on January 26, 2005


Considering they probably get 10's of millions of spam messages per day, this is not negligible.

Of course in the process they fundementally broke the internet for their customers. Imagine a phone company telling you you couldn't recieve calls from out of country.

I didn't know Verizon was doing this but I wonder if it explains silence I recieve when asking ebay sellers questions?
posted by Mitheral at 11:22 AM on January 26, 2005


Pretty horrible of Verizon. Although my friend in NY has Verizon and he has no problem getting emails from me (from UK). Why is that?
posted by gfrobe at 11:41 AM on January 26, 2005


On a side note, can people from Hotmail email GMail accounts yet? Or has that been fixed for ages?

I haven't seen that bug in months. Also, gmail is still in beta, which is (by definition) where they work that stuff out.

Any other "side notes," fenriq?
posted by chicobangs at 11:49 AM on January 26, 2005


I don't think I've ever used an ISP's email. I always viewed it as inconstant, since I may change services from DSL to cable, but want to keep my email address the same.

Hence, a personal domain which I can move around from web host to web host (if I ever do), and public email addresses, none of which need ever change.

The same went for my cell phone number. I doggedly stayed with Sprint PCS for 6 years before number portability was enacted in late 2003 -- after which Sprint showed no appreciation for loyalty and so I jumped, but kept my number.
posted by linux at 2:53 PM on January 26, 2005


I pay a little more for my ISP, and I get what I pay for.

When they started blocking port 25, here's how they handled it:

#1: They sent notice to their customers, and put a big warning on their web site, announcing the date that the change would take effect.

#2: They provided a web page that you could submit your IP address(es) to, in order to request that port 25 remain unblocked.

#3: If you requested that port 25 remain unblocked, they scanned your port 25 at that IP to make sure it wasn't an open relay. They also scan periodically, and made it clear that if the machine ever became an open relay (or showed signs of a mass-mailing virus infection), they'll automatically block port 25 and contact you to let you know there was a problem.

I can't think of a better way to handle it than this; responsible people get the port open, lazy or incompetent people get it closed, and infected/exploited machine people get shut down temporarily until they're fixed.

I'm not sure what the rules are for pimping ISPs here, so I won't drop the name. But boy, I'd like to. :)
posted by davejay at 6:28 PM on January 26, 2005


davejay:

#2: They provided a web page that you could submit your IP address(es) to, in order to request that port 25 remain unblocked.

You got fixed IPs? Damn, that is some ISP.
posted by rkent at 6:52 PM on January 26, 2005


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