Sender Verify vs Hotmail

November 26th, 2013 by

We aim to give our users the choice of a range of anti-spam measures. One of the options we provider is sender verify, a simple check whereby before you accept a mail, you check that the sender of that email exists, and would accept mail from you. You can argue about how effective this is as an anti-spam measure, but it seems a perfectly reasonable check to want to make, in the same way that many people choose to not answer their phone to those who withhold caller ID.

Unfortunately, some people object to you asking the question.

We recently had some complaints from users who said that they couldn’t receive mail from people with addresses hosted on Microsoft’s Hotmail servers, and sure enough, Hotmail have blacklisted one of our servers’ IPs for daring to enquire about whether particular sender addresses were valid. This affects not just, but various other Microsoft domains.

Sadly, Microsoft aren’t going to change their policy for us, so we needed to whitelist them. This isn’t entirely trivial as what matters is where the sender’s email address is hosted, which means looking up the MX records for that domain. Fortunately, Exim makes this easy enough, provided that you’re not offended by curly brackets. Adding the following condition to a sender verify ACL will disable the check for Hotmail hosted domains:

!condition = ${if forany{${lookup dnsdb{>: mxh=$sender_address_domain}{$value}fail}}{match {$item}{\Nmx.\.hotmail\.com\N}}}

I should note that for quite some time, we’ve used a dedicated IP address for performing our sender verify checks in order to minimise the impact of exactly this type of blacklisting. If we hadn’t done this, the blacklist would have made it impossible for any users to send mail to Hotmail-hosted addresses too. As it was, the problem only affected users who had elected to use sender verify on their domains.