Frequently Asked Questions

The NearlyFreeSpeech.NET FAQ (*)

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Q. What is greylisting?

Greylisting is a technique we use in conjunction with email forwarding designed to help differentiate misconfigured servers from spammers and virus-writers.

A variety of standards and best practices exist around the protocols used to send emails and identify their senders (SMTP and DNS). Most servers follow these standards very closely. Spammers and email virus writers, on the other hand, are just as uninterested in standards as they are in the laws against what they do.

If (and only if) a standards compliance problem is detected with a sending server, the message it's sending is refused by us, and the sending server is added to the greylist. If the server tries to send that same message again a little later (one to four hours, depending on how messed up the server is), the message will be allowed and that server will be automatically added to a whitelist of servers that have passed the test.

Legitimate mail servers are required to queue messages and try them again later, so to them greylisting is a temporary inconvenience (plus it puts messages in their logs telling them to fix whatever problem(s) got them on the list). Viruses, on the other hand, have to fit their SMTP engines into small spaces; even if they wanted to implement a system that retried messages, they typically have no place to queue them. Greylisting is thus very effective against viruses in general, even new viruses that standard virus scans don't know to detect. Spam senders are somewhere in the middle; many use poorly-written software that simply sends out as much as it can as fast as it can, ignoring errors, and greylisting can be a pretty effective barrier to those.

The greylist (and the associated auto-whitelist) is on a per-sending-server basis and is shared by all of our email forwarding domains. Once auto-whitelisted, a legitimate server stays there until it goes 32 days without sending any mail; every time a message goes through, the clock resets. So as long as a server sends a message to someone using our email forwarding service at least once per month, it will stay in the clear.

In the event of a conflict, the spam blacklist (a list of known spam sources) overrides the auto-whitelist, so if a sending server is identified as a spam source sometime after being auto-whitelisted, its messages will still be thwarted.