The Daily Ping

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September 21st, 2004

Bounce Messages Are Now Useless

Over the past several days, I’ve been inundated with hundreds and hundreds of bounced e-mail messages. I long ago got to the point where once I see “Undelivered” or some variant, I delete the message without looking at it. Ten years ago, bounce messages were incredibly useful: they’d tell you when a message you sent was undeliverable. However, we have three people to blame for these messages becoming useless over the last few years.

  • Virus writers… Almost all viruses these days have spoofed From: lines, with the information swiped from the infected user’s address book. When a massive mailing of viruses goes out from a user’s computer, there are bound to be bounces, but they don’t go to the actual sender. They end up in some poor schlub’s e-mail box who just happened to have their address in the infected user’s address book or web cache. This is also why those “A message you sent has a virus” autoresponses are pointless. For this reason, IT staff around the world have heard the question, “I got this bounce that says I’m infected… do I have a virus?” about a thousand times a day.
  • Sysadmins/mail gateway programmers… Can’t messages that have known viruses just be ignored and deleted? Can’t someone end the rash of these pointless bounces? No one has, so sysadmins and anyone responsible for programming the mail gateways that do the bouncing are guilty.
  • Spammers… These are the worst offenders. While I’m opposed to the death penalty, I fully support castration without anesthetic for spammers that forge their headers (that is to say, all of them). The hundreds of messages I’ve been inundated with recently have been bounced to addresses like, and upon a closer inspection, are offers for mortgages, pills, and other scams. While I could close off my “catch-all” address for these domains, that would mean I’d stop getting a lot of legitimate e-mail, too. The one thing I have noticed, though, is that out of all of the messages that have been sent out in my name, only one person has ever replied. Fortunately, people are getting somewhat smarter when it comes to spam.

So, if I’ve sent you a message recently and it bounced: too bad… I’ll never know.

Posted in Technology

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