Spamtraps are not the problem

When you go to the doctor, do you want the doctor to treat your symptoms or do you want the doctor to give you treatment for the disease that is causing the symptoms?

If you’re like most people, the answer will be “I want the doctor to treat the disease.”

In my line of work, though, the answer that I get when talking with customers who have been listed by Spamhaus or other largely spamtrap-driven lists that they want to deal with the symptom rather than the disease.

What are the characteristics of spamtraps?

Spamtraps generally have two characteristics:

  1. Spamtraps accept all messages. There’s a possibility that this first commonality might, in fact, have some exceptions, but they tend to be very few and far between. We’ll talk about those later, but for our purposes, you should assume that spamtraps will accept any messages sent to them.
  2. Spamtraps are passive. With the exception of the Lashback Unsubscribe Blacklist ​(Lashback LLC 2016)​, spamtraps do not tend to end up on any particular entity’s list as a result of a deliberate action taken by the trap’s owner. No matter if we’re talking about typo traps or email addresses scraped off of a webpage, the presence of a spamtrap is not an indication of some action taken by the trap network’s owner.

The problem or the symptom?

A common response when someone discovers that their list has spamtraps on it is to want to find and eliminate the spamtraps. The usual request is to just suppress bounces and see if that fixes the problem. Unfortunately, since spamtraps receive mail, eliminating bounces will do nothing to get rid of the traps.

More than that, though, just trying to eliminate the spamtraps will do nothing to take care of the reason why the spamtraps were there to begin with. Since spamtraps tend not to enter a list as a result of any action taken by the list’s owner, they should be taken as a symptom of a different, deeper problem.

Problems with acquisition or hygiene

Spamtraps tend to indicate problems with either list acquisition or list hygiene. Many spamtraps tend to show up on different lists at different points in time. This generally indicates that the address is being purchased either through a list append or a data purchase or rental. Spamtrap operators will carefully watch for how a trap is spread and may even ask for assistance in identifying the source of the list purchase so that they can track what a vendor does with the data.

Other traps, especially typo traps and repurposed traps, are more indicative of list hygiene issues. If data is not validated during collection, then the list is liable to have issues with bad data being put in and then used. Additionally, old, unused lists can sit there stale long enough for the entire conditioning period mentioned in my last post to come and go without noticing and acting upon bounces ​(Chandler 2020)​.

Conclusion

Next time, we will discuss how to handle spamtraps on a list. But, the long and short of today’s post is that people need to stop assuming that discovering and then eliminating a spamtrap will solve all of their problems. The presence of a spamtrap tells you that there are issues which need careful consideration and resolution.

Sources

  1. Chandler, Mickey. 2020. “What Is a Spamtrap?” Spamtacular. February 10, 2020. https://www.spamtacular.com/2020/02/10/what-is-a-spamtrap/.
  2. Lashback LLC. 2016. “Lashback Unsubscribe Blacklist.” Lashback. 2016. https://blacklist.lashback.com/.
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