Account suspended due to spam

Friday 29 December 2006

The other day I started to get a flood of spam returned to me via bogus return addresses. This has happened every month or so for a while: a day of 2000 messages in my inbox. The return addresses are all made-up localparts at my domain, like MiltonqWilsoncantelope@nedbatchelder.com. I thought, oh well, I'll have to clean these all up, and I considered turning off the default address for my domain, so that these messages wouldn't get delivered in the future.

Before I got around to it, though, my hosting provider (TotalChoice) decided to do something for me: they suspended my entire account, including my web hosting. For about 18 hours, this site was offline, and all emails to nedbatchelder.com were discarded. I found this to be a bit of an overreaction, and it pissed me off.

After some pestering, the support people let me know that my billing had also failed. I use a virtual credit card number, and it expires once a year, so this had happened a few times before, with no interruption in service. This time, I had to pay up before they would turn the account back on. After providing a new credit card number, the account was re-enabled.

I went to my email settings, and saw that the default address for nedbatchelder.com had been set to discard emails rather than forward them. This was fine, except that I realized that I had been using the custom of providing different emails to different sites: bloglines@nedbatchelder.com for Bloglines, digg@nedbatchelder.com for Digg, and so on. So I went through a pile of old emails to see what aliases like this I had created. It turns out there were about 60 different ones over the years. I started to create explicit forwards for the ones I really needed, but when I tested them, nothing was being delivered.

Turns out ned@nedbatchelder.com was also being delivered only because of the default forwarding, so I had to create a real mail account for myself, change Thunderbird's account settings to access it, and test it. It worked, so mail was at least flowing to me again. I created the half-dozen more aliases I needed, and they seem to work fine.

For some aliases, I figured I didn't need them to be distinct, so why not just change them to ned@ and be done with it? One of these was the email I gave to eBay. I logged into eBay, and tried to change it to ned@. No luck: that email is in use. I clicked through to "I forgot my username", and had eBay send me my username in an email. Turns out I am both "nedbatchelder" and "ned_batchelder" on eBay. Trying to change the underscore name to use a different email address wouldn't work (the form kept claiming the username was invalid?). OK, let's set my real account to point to my Gmail email. Nope: you need to have a credit card on file to use a Gmail address (why?). OK, I made a generic second email address for me at nedbatchelder.com, and pointed eBay at that. Whatever.

At this point, I think my email is working properly again. If you wrote to me Wednesday night or Thursday during the day, and I seemed (unusually) unresponsive, the email may have disappeared. Try me again.

Talking to friends about this incident, I'm told that this is what I can expect from an inexpensive vendor. One friend told me to switch to Dreamhost, they're great. I mentioned to another friend that I already had an account at Dreamhost that I could switch to, and he said, they're worse, don't use them.

Having been through other experiences like this with other hosting providers, and reading reviews online of hosts, and talking to friends, I've come to this conclusion: with a commodity like hosting, most people will have a fine experience with whatever provider they choose. There are probably truly bad providers, but most are fine, and most people will have a good story to tell. But some small number (1%? 5%?) will have a horror story to tell, and again, it will happen with whatever provider they choose. So I don't know what to expect in the future, and I don't know whether to switch or not.

Comments

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D 3:37 PM on 29 Dec 2006

Check out HCoop. If they do have problems, you'll always have a way to help fix them or provide input.

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masukomi 4:37 PM on 29 Dec 2006

my domain's been live for 6 years now, along with it my e-mail address. sometime last year some spammer decided to start using masukomi.org in their bogus from addresses, so me getting 2000 bounced spams a day became fairly normal.

I eventually convinced qmail to stop giving me the double bounces but I'm still getting 500 spams a day on a regular basis. To add to the problem bayesian spam filtering just refuses to work on my mac in any meaningful way. Thunderbird works decently (at filtering spam) under linux but not my os x. So, being stuck on os x at home for the moment, I gave up entirely and just configured my mail server to reroute all my mail to my gmail account and configured gmail to let me use the appropriate from addresses when sending.

Now I only have to deal with 10-20 spams a day that make it through the filters.

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Dennis Doughty 4:40 PM on 29 Dec 2006

And here I wondered what I'd done to get 2000 bogus spams sent out under my domain. Little did I know that everyone has that problem right now.

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Ian Bicking 5:22 PM on 29 Dec 2006

I've moved just my email to a hosted account (tuffmail.com), and I've been very happy with that. Keeping web and email hosting separate seems like a good choice, generally you want very different kinds of support and tech.

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adamg 8:41 PM on 29 Dec 2006

So I'm not alone? :-). The thing that annoys me (since, fortunately, so far my host - pair.com - hasn't said a thing) are all the auto-responders out there that tell me the message they just got is spam or invalid for some reason. Might have made a lot of sense in 1999, but now? Couldn't they just turn that off?

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Stuart Woodward 3:11 AM on 30 Dec 2006

Also for me, this was the year that having your own domain became a liability. Like you, I also have individual email addresses for domains so I was reading all the mail addressed to my domain. I switched over to a system that uses greylisting to slowdown the spammers who are using botnets comprising of thousands of hijacked machines. I also still get bombarded with hundreds of "Out of the office.." and "I no longer use this email address due to spam!" mails from autoresponders. Readers, please turn off your vacation autoresponder! It used to be fun having many domains with cool names but now I'm disposing of any that are not essential.

Stuart - Tokyo

[gravatar]
Greg Hines 6:06 AM on 30 Dec 2006

I've had more than my share of problems with shared hosts. I stopped counting but I've probably changed hosts nearly two dozen times since 1998. (I wish I was exaggerating.)

One of the hosts went out of business and forgot to tell me (yet still charged for another month the day before). Several others suffered regular outages. Two had non-existent support. Still more had nearly unusable "control panels" or vastly overloaded servers. It's the price you pay when you share one server with hundreds of other accounts. Short of owning or leasing a dedicated server, you have to live by someone else's rules.

I'm currently running on TextDrive (now owned by Joyent) and they're so far pretty good. They use Webmin, which can be a chore to use sometimes but it's generally fine if you consult their (very good) documentation. Their service is quick--about six hours turnaround on non-urgent issues (I've never had a need to mark something as urgent). They've got some good features including ssh access, cron jobs, and support for all the hip frameworks like Rails and Django. I particularly like the Subversion server.

Still, I've only had a couple of months with them so I can't strongly recommend them yet. They've so far earned the highest praise I've ever given a Web host ("they seem OK so far...") but most of the hosts I've tried have earned that at one point before I dumped them.

For what it's worth, I used Dreamhost for a time. They didn't have any significant problems while I was with them--I switched for reasons unrelated to Dreamhost's service. That said, I heard they had massive outages back during the Great MySpace Outage (they're hosted in the same datacenter). It's hard to trust a hosting company when you can't trust their datacenter.

To belatedly make a long story short, there is no perfect shared host. They all suck in some way. It just takes longer with some hosts to figure out what that way happens to be.

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mikey 11:48 AM on 30 Dec 2006

Ned, maybe split the domain and point the MX to a GREAT vendor, www.webmail.us. I've had a great experience with them.

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Andy Todd 12:50 AM on 3 Jan 2007

For what its worth I use TextDrive as well and share Greg's opinion that they seem OK. Mind you, I've only got a single email address (and account) active at each domain I've got hosted there and I make sure that I don't have a default forwarding rule.

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