RIP the catch-all email

August 2nd, 2007

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I always thought the best thing about having my own domain name was being able to invent crazy email addresses off the top of my head and have them still work, through the magic of “catch all” email. Sadly, for me at least, the catch all is no more.

Way back in the dotcom era (as it is known) I purchased my very own domain name, shreddies.org. Back then I had little interest in hosting a website, as blogs hadn’t been invented and I had nothing to sell or advertise. But I did like the idea of being my own email provider.

While everyone else’s email was either jamesturnbull9992@hotmail.com or 789789798@compuserve.com I was using ad-hoc e-mail addresses all over the place. When I was signing up to boo.com my email address became boo@shreddies.org, and I followed the same logic for everything. This was much to the confusion of people asking me for my email address in the street – “Your email address is the same as our company name? What a coincidence!”.

I thought I was onto the perfect spam-blocking measure: if any of the addresses were added to a spam list I could not only easily block the address, I knew exactly who had sold my email address on. For a while, the system worked.

Unfortunately, with the rise of the botnet in recent years the spam situation has got a whole lot worse. Gone are those days when I got spammed be people who bought mailing lists, now the spammers just send junk to every-combination-of-letters@every-domain.org and hope they hit at least one active address.

In the last year or so I’ve been combating this spam with Spamassassin configured to remove messages at the very low score of 3, and recently I beefed Spamassassin up with the SARE rules from Openprotect, which helped, but wasn’t perfect.

This all came to a head last weekend when, due to some mailserver issues at Dreamhost, my mail filter rules were disabled. This meant that I was open to the full force of the spam and over two days I received something over 170,000 emails.

There may have been one or two worthwhile messages in there but I never managed to find out. All mail clients crashed when trying to just list the contents of my Inbox, so I was forced to remove all the messages and start again.

I switched off the catch all email address and instantly stopped receiving mail. For hours on end I thought something was broken as I was getting no mail whatsoever. I searched my archive email folders for every address I have ever used in the past and added these to a whitelist of about 750 addresses. Still nothing. I upped my Spamassassin scoring to a very lenient 12. Still nothing.

I eventually realised that things were not broken, the lack of email was normal. I’d forgotten what email used to be like, when I didn’t get a spam message every 2 minutes.

I’ll miss my catch all email, and it hurts that the spammers won that battle, but I wish I’d switched off that catch all years ago.

4 Responses to “RIP the catch-all email”

  1. Nico Says:

    “Your email address is the same as our company name? What a coincidence!” Haha, nice ^^

    I already hate spammers just because of 8 mails per day.

  2. Alex Turnbull Says:

    Very thoughtful article! I should read this blog more often :)

    I’m scared now – I still use my catchall, and I have used it so much that I’d have to spend a long time sorting out mailing list subscriptions…

  3. Nev Says:

    I’m coming to the conclusion that email as we know it is in its death throes. The much talked about redesign of the Internet isn’t going to happen any time soon. Declaring yourself email bankrupt is becoming more and more common.

    The rise of the social network among the youth has led to them abandoning email completely apart from when they have to deal with the older generation. I think that Scoble may have even jumped onto the Facebook bandwagon to keep in touch with his friends (which is akin to a big whitelist anyway). Either that or he just wants to pretend that he’s down with the kids…

  4. Ben Ward Says:

    Oh bugger.

    At 13,000 spams per month gobbled by my forwarding to gmail I think my problem isn’t quite so bad, but effectively the same. You’ve perfectly described my approach to handing out email addresses over the years. Unfortunately most of the spam is delivered to ben@ which means most of my mail will stop arriving.

    I find the spam/anti-spam arms race fascinating but having to keep up with it makes it a real arse ache.

    Witness the powAr of the Incredible Viagra Regular Expression: http://crouchingbadger.com/?p=246

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