are the Geeks, for they shall internet the earth
The Secret Life of E-mail
is a comprehensive list of what your email message goes through in order to get
- Virus Checks - The majority of virus (and worms) these
days, travel around the internet by way of email messages. In order to protect
valuable network systems from being attacked by a virus, most corporate
networks and Internet Service Providers employ virus scanners that look for
viruses and worms in much the same way that anti virus scans on your desktop
computer. Most email server are set up to delete or quarantine any message
that tests positive for a virus.
- SPAM filters and the huge growth of SPAM - Everyone
hates SPAM! So much so, that people will change their ISP providers or email
host to get better protection from SPAM. As a result, companies like AOL and
MSN spend tons of money coming up with new ways to provide "better" spam
protection to their subscribers to reduce their attrition rates.
- SPAM filtering methods:
- Phrase filters - watch what you say! Many email
servers use a list of unacceptable or offensive word and phrase lists and
will reject or place the message in a junk folder upon a match, so watch
what you say, or your message could be rejected.
- Connection Checks - poorly configured email servers
can cause loss of messages. This is most likely out of your control (unless
you are a server admin), but just be aware that when email servers talk to
each other, some are very picky about allowing a connection and may reject
it if the source server does not "check out" properly.
- Statistical Analysis - this is used to catch some of
the techniques used by spammers like many repeated words or a bunch of
unrelated words stuffed in the message (usually to try to throw off the spam
filters). Your message can become a victim of this if you do something like
copy and paste a data file into the body of your message or if you were to
insert a data file (like a mail list or spread sheet) into your message, as
opposed to attaching the file.
- Domain Black Lists - Your ISP does not like your
friend's ISP! - server administrators will use a list of trusted (and
sometimes not-so-trusted) domain and/or IP address lists to filter incoming
messages. If you happen to be using one of the "bad" service providers, your
messages could be dropped. Watch the company you keep!
- HTML code checking and filtering - Don't get too fancy
with your Html email messages. Many servers are set up to reject messages
that contain certain html code. Especially scripts, deceptive URLs or
- Discretionary Blocking by email address, domain, or IP
block. - Most email server gives the admin the power to place a block in
their server to deny access to any server or domain of their choosing.
- Server Rule Sets - in addition to all of the above
obstacles, most email servers can be custom configured with rules that will
redirect or delete messages on just about any content that you can think of!
A incorrectly coded rule could create a virtual sink hole for messages.
Now, assuming your message gets through all of the above
checks, the next pitfall is in the email client program, like Outlook.
- Email Client Rules and Filters - Just like servers can
have rule sets that redirect or delete messages, most email client software
also has the ability to create custom rules to delete or move messages into a
folder. Again, an improperly coded rule could create a black hole for your
- Unsolicited Message Filters, or Junk Filters - Most
email client software also provides some sort of Junk mail filter, like
Outlooks Junk E-Mail filter and add-on filters like SpamAssassin. These
filters have become quite reliable, but there is still a small percentage of
False Positives that will occur. Your message could fall victim to one of
those false positives.
- Standards not adhered to - Although there are sets of
standards (RFCs) that software providers and administrators of server are
supposed to abide to, the standards are many times loosely adhered to. In fact
most email server software gives the admin the option to turn on or off
specific RFC features at their will or desire.
- False Positives - virus and spam filters. - Every
content filtering technology has a certain percentage of False Positives that
are considered acceptable.
- Proprietary Systems - There are many home grown systems
out there that are simply poorly written and do not conform to standards.
- The Wild Wild West... everyone configures their systems
based on their view, morals and opinions.
- Quotas - Sorry, that mailbox is full - Many service
providers will limit the size of your inbox. The reasons for this are
obvious... storage costs money.
- Daily Delivery... no so much! - Just because your
message got through today, does not mean it will make it tomorrow. Content and
virus filters are often updated daily. Also, the little geek behind the server
administrators console may decide to add an additonal filter or click on a new
feature just to try it out (I know, I've done it)... again, it's the Wild Wild
So, how can I Fix this? What can I do?
- Mostly, be aware of this.
- Request a "Delivery Receipt". Most email clients support
this, however, most email clients also provide the option to ignore them when
received. Still, it does not hurt to ask!
- Request a confirmation. Ask the recipient of the message
to reply back to you with confirmation that they received it. This is probably
the most reliable method of making sure the message was received.
- Assume Nothing - never simply assume that the message
was received. You know what assuming does... It makes an ass out of you and
- Follow up. If the message is critical, follow up with a
phone call, or with an additional email requesting a confirmation.
The Result and my recommendation:
Email is a great and very convenient for daily communications,
but just be aware of the pitfalls and do not over rely on email for critical
communications. And please... Don't send your critical business files via email.
FTP or burn on CD and send overnight.
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