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back to article Pipex 'silence' condemned punters' emails to spam blackhole

Pipex subscribers struggled to send emails for several days after antivirus biz Trend Micro declared the ISP's network a source of spam. Messages sent via Pipex's servers were either blocked or deliberately delayed by internet providers and businesses that rely on Trend Micro's services to filter emails. El Reg stepped in to …

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IT Angle

Better to run ones own email server, which will probably outside of the affected IP range. Otherwise your precious email is reliant on a third party SMTP relay (Pipex in this case).

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Why not run your own power station, too?

We could all run our own SMTP server, like we could all grow our own food, make our own shoes and sew our own clothes. You need to make your way into the 18th century. (Look on the back of a £20 note, assuming you don't do everything by barter).

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Re: Why not run your own power station, too?

I know SMTP is an old protocol, but 18th century?

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You will need a reputable isp with fixed ip account to send mail to anyone who uses a well managed mail system on other end.

Nobody accepts dynamic ip especially from ip blocks which aren't administered correctly. That is, cutting internet access of that zombie who sends thousands of mails a second and tell him/ her to get computer cleaned.

Believe or not, there are providers like that.

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Unhappy

Very sad

Pipex used to be one of the most technically correct and proficient ISPs in this country. It's so sad they were gobbled up by the shittest ISP in this country and now offer this turgid service.

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Re: Very sad

I have used Pipex for some years and I have to say I have always found their support levels very good. No, I'm not affiliated with them in any way. But I have called them up with a problem at gone 10:00pm at night (as a small business customer) and got straight through to someone who was able to look into the problem and assist.

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Re: Very sad

I agree. I've been with Pipex since the mid 90's and each time they get bought out they get progressively worse. It's getting to the stage now that I'm seriously considering moving.

It's a damn shame because, as you say, they were originally one of the very best.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Very sad

If you're after old-Pipex like service levels you could do worse than looking at Zen.

I used to work in support at Pipex in the 90's and Zen has a good attitude.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Very sad

I've been a Pipex user since the 90's and was getting truely peeved at the service I was getting with the now TalkTalk network.

I spent a few weeks looking around and found it nearly impossible to get decent data on who ISP realy are (ie: lots of brands for a few big ISPs) and finding data on what limitations they impose on services (ie: VPN as used for working from home).

Two weeks back I was doing the work from home bit and turned my PC on to get an early start, found I had not connection, half an hour later it was back.

I turns out talkTalk are the first (currently only) ISP to get BT to open up my villages exchange; I now have a 23Mb connection (just under 1Mb up stream). According to the samknowsbb site BT have not upgraded our exchange yet!

Would have been nice to have been told about the upgrade (no letters, emails or anything), and I can now use iPlayer (HD) and such at peak times without any lag/loading issues at all.

So it looks like I'll be staying with TalkTalk a bit longer.

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Re: Very sad

Wow! Six thumbs down just for saying I've had good experiences with their support. I wasn't offering empirical proof that they are beyond all reproach or anything. Stories like this always provide an opportunity for people who are pissed off with company X to leap in and tell their stories of woe. And that's fine for them to do so. But just because someone has always had really good experiences with them that's reason to object to their post?

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@ h4rm0ny Re: Very sad

I'm assuming you have a Pipex Business contract - you didn't make it clear, which is probably the reason for the downvotes. Home user support bad; Business customer support good;

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Had this issue sending email to a handful of addresses and it was pretty obvious what the problem was from the bounce message returned.

Tried to tell Pipex but gave up after 45 minutes on hold listening to The Nolans tell me that they were in the mood for dancing.

Problem lasted about 48 hours and then went away.

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Anonymous Coward

So....

...when does Hotmail, Yahoo,Gmail et all get blocked?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: So....

Not as long as their support people are responsive to Trend Micro. Did you not read the article?

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Re: So....

I can't actually remember the last time I got any spam from those three.

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Linux

Re: So....

@jonathanb: the reason you probably don't get much spam from Hotmail is that most decent spam filters (like SpamAssassin or those based on it) have rules that boost the spam score of anything from a Hotmail domain - and very sensible that is in my experience.

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Re: So....

Those really manage their network and handle thousands of abuse reports. Google struggled a bit but recently I don't see stuff originating from their servers. Now their "apps" system is abused.

Also all my SpamCop reports to AOL were handled, I haven't seen a single spam from their customers for a long time.

The most amazing thing is, South Korea as a country did great progress with their spam issue. It was looking hopeless and people started blocking entire country. So, even a massively broadband country can fix spam issue if they care enough. That is, handling abuse reports.

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Re: So....

"most decent spam filters (like SpamAssassin or those based on it) have rules that boost the spam score of anything from a Hotmail domain"

are you referring to "From:" or "Received:" headers here? My impression is there aren't really that many spams originating from hotmail servers, apart from perhaps hijacked accuonts and the like.

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Trollface

Re: So....

People still use AOL? AOL UK was taken over by Stalk Stalk a few years back, but I got the impression they lost most of their customer base in the switch from dial-up to broadband.

Having said that, I learned in today's edition of El-Reg that Real Player is still around, so who knows?

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The sorry state of ISP competition.

Once, many moons ago I worked for an ISP, in fact one of the many companies now part of TalkTalk's ISP 'service'. The ISP market, can just about be called that. The real competition that existed in the 90s has been replaced with this pseudo-competition. Instead we have, maybe five big time players who's bottom line is to reduce cost, by rationalising services and well losing staff. The people who suffered, well us. Emails not being delivered and going from this article, because no one responded to an email.

Still nice article by the Reg, showing us all the pieces of the puzzle.

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Re: The sorry state of ISP competition.

"maybe five big time players"

There are still some small and responsive ones around. Merula, ICUK, Andrews & Arnold, Wizards, various others.

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Re: The sorry state of ISP competition.

I went from Direct Connection (Dircon) to Pipex years ago, and left Pipex for Andrews and Arnold (AAISP) who are like Dircon and Pipex used to be - but better. There is still a vibrant small ISP market out there, where you pay a bit more in return for excellent service and support.

When I read about the merger plans (Dircon to Netscalibur and Pipex to TalkTalk), I start looking for a new ISP.

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Pipex are still around?

I used to be with them when they were good, then when Tiscali bought them everything went to the dogs. Eventually I left them when out of contract and they tried to charge me £150 cancellation fee for being in contract.

They caved after an angry letter was sent along with copies of every email they ever sent me regarding my service/contract to prove I wasn't in contract.

Tiscali really did a good job, to turn a moderately decent ISP into one of the crappest in no time at all is quite an achievement!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: My Pap Ex

I had a lucky escape. I was watching them fall apart, placing five or more direct debits on people's bank account without authorisation, and levelling high 'contract' fees on people leaving who weren't on a 12-month contract...

Then one day they contacted me to say that due to their bungling of a customer accounts upgrade (anyone remember that, when they had two systems running in tandem each with mixed and contradictory records for some customers?) they'd lost my billing details and hadn't been paid for the last few months.

I repeatedly gave them new payment details only to be repeatedly contacted again with the same message, demanding I give them new payment methods. In the end, I saw this as an opportunity to run a mile without the risk of them taking money that wasn't owed after I left (a huge problem with so many former customers) and just asked for a MAC, which they supplied.

Switched ISPs and never looked back. I kept giving payment details and when I left gave them yet again and said if they still couldn't sort their act out, send me a letter and I'd send a cheque... never heard from them again!

Thanks for the free Internet connection, Pipex. It partially balances all the stress you caused so many other customers by stealing money from their bank accounts.

I'm amazed that so many people posting here are old timers like me from the 90s, but who are *still* with them! No offence, but on that basis you come across all retarded and stuff. Like I said, no offence.

I agree Zen are still holding it together, but their advantages over other ISPs is no longer what it was, at least the last time I checked their prices. Sad to see Entanet fall apart a few years ago, and there was Nildram before that, which went the same way as Pipex.

In an age when you can get tens of mbps from mainstream suppliers like BT Infinity or Virgin Media, there's less scope for small independent ISPs to offer something special. Pipex, Zen and Nildram carved reputations based on fast and reliable dialup. Those days really are a world away now.

I've been with Be since escaping Pipex, and although they're not the company they used to be, they're still a good bare bones service, which is all I want. I have my own email, backup and anti-virus solutions thanks BT. And you'd seriously have to be a chump to go with Orange or TalkTalk. Like incest, you just instinctively know to avoid them.

As for ISP loyalty... get real. I'd leave Be in the morning if I saw signs of them falling onto the same abyss as Pipex. I did keep an eye out for the old Be management setting up that new ISP based purely on 1gbps optic fibre connections, but nothing seems to have come of them. Just like the Rickards family's own attempts to start a new ISP after selling their final 3% of Pipex, and poach all the old loyal Pipex users.

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Re: Pipex are still around?

I cancelled them 8 or 9 years ago. They invoked the 13-month small print in their "annual" contract, and took an extra month out of my Barclays A/C via D/D. I then spent 2 or 3 months sending angry letters to both Barclays and Pipex, but neither of them would back down. So, I cancelled Barclays as well. Tossers both.

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Black Helicopters

Re: My Pap Ex

> Thanks for the free Internet connection, Pipex. It partially balances all the stress you caused so

> many other customers by stealing money from their bank accounts.

That's interesting. I thought it was just me they screwed over. I signed up with them pretty much on day #1 (1992?), and was with them over 10 years.

I saw Peter Dawe at some sort of presentation a few years later, mumbling on about how the world hadn't kept up with his vision for IPv6. He was very, very, unimpressive.

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Anonymous Coward

Trend are liars. I work for a small hosting company and our main outgoing SMTP relay ended up on this reputation list. We had no contact or warning beforehand, the first we knew was when a customer forwarded a bounced email to us. Trend provide no obvious way to manage this or any form of feedback loop to deal with it. We are a responsible company when it comes to email, and take any abuse of our servers very seriously, and will always investigate and stop any spam through our servers. Given that, at the time we were blacklisted by Trend we appeared in no other black lists, and our reputation score elsewhere was good, all I can surmise is that Trend's list is a pile of rubbish, and anyone who uses it is a fool.

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Trend are to blame

Trend and all the other RBL services are known for their careless and high-handed blocking of innocent internet users. They make little attempt to cooperate with ISPs to avoid collateral damage to all their legitimate clients. Would you spray a crowd of innocent civilians with gunfire because a terrorist was running through the crowd? Without even bothering to yell "clear the path!"? That's the equivalent of what Trend are doing.

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Paris Hilton

To give Trend the benefit of the doubt, is it possible Trend sent the complaints to your upstream provider who just bit-binned them?

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Anonymous Coward

@Alan W. Rateliff, II

No, there is no "upstream" as such. We are responsible for our own IP ranges, route provision etc. If they looked up any information about our mail server, it would come back to us. Specifically me.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Trend are to blame

You miss the point. Trend et al have stated requirements to get on these RBLs, and to get off. If your ISP gets on an RBL, it had to have met those requirements. Network Solutions is on one of the blacklists, and from what I've been able to determine, it's more profitable for them to keep those customers responsible for getting them on the list than it is for them to get off of the list.

anonymous because I'm a Network Solutions email customer and would prefer not to have my company's email accounts terminated because I think they're not handling the issue properly.

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Anonymous Coward

TalkTalk - you get what you pay for? ...Outsourced smtp can be good

there can be good SMTP 3rd parties who do the job properly; I remember the shock in 2001 of finding that Freeserve (whomsoever owned it at that time) blocked the ADSL connection of a client because his computer was infected and spewing out spam. Exactly what an ISP should do to minor domestic connections, especially after sending email to warn of problem.

(maybe better that they block port 25 by default and use an alternative port for their email services? networks where this is so suffer far fewer problems, mostly of the few visitors relying on an open port 25 due to their email client configuration)

Zen do the same today - they notify of a problem and review it prior to disconnecting subscribers (at least, that was the drift of a message received by another client recently.)

Not everyone is competent to run their own mail server, and the power and other resources required to do so are often not justified. Lack of resources may make such a mail server unreliable for reasons other than spam/spam blacklisting, e.g. lack of suitable cooling/power redundancy/server redundancy/24-7-365 monitoring and support ...

TalkTalk ought to be ashamed of themselves on many levels.

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We just want the spam to stop

I don't think they do want the spam to stop, they'd much rather that the spam continued flowing in a way that was easy enough for them to identify with 100% accuracy so they can keep selling their product.

I didn't realise people still used pipex, I used freedom2surf years ago and the service was great. It continued OK when they were taken over by Pipex. Then the whole lot went to Tiscalli, it was fine for a while then one day, my Internet speed nose dived. I checked my router and sure enough I had been moved onto Tiscalli's LLU service without any consultation. I started my migration the same day.

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Coat

Doesn't surprise me, just look at their advertising...

Free ringdings!

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FAIL

Some servers may still be blocked.

We were a Nildram customer - swallowed up in the same chain that ended in the bowels (and you know what you find in bowels) of TalkTalk.

We first had some emails bounced on 8th May. I contacted TalktTalk the same day: I provided them with all the information as to why emails were being blocked, including the website where they could see that the IP address was being blocked AND EXACTLY WHY it was blocked. It took me nearly an hour to explain it all to them and I still don't think the idiot understood or believed me. I just took a guess and started sending email (successfully) via smtp.tiscali.co.uk instead of smtp.mildram.co.uk.

On 19th May I got an email from TalkTalk. Pathetic: "it's not our fault", "a 3rd party has blacklisted us", "they are refusing to de-list our servers". They gave me another SMTP server to use which I ignored. Note that this response is after your article says the blocks were lifted.

After reading the article I phoned TalkTalk again. Another moron who doesn't recognise my account number, doesn't recognise the reference number on the email I was send and doesn't understand the problem fully. This moron informs me that "75% of the IP range is now unblocked, 25% is still blocked". Once again, this "isn't our fault" and "they blocked us for no reason". I would black-list TalkTalk - and the reason's got nothing to do with spam!

So, a couple of possible corrections to the article. Blocking certainly started on 8th may or earlier. By 19th May (according to TalkTalk) the problem had not been resolved. Today (again according to the morons) the problem is STILL not entirely resolved.

Actually I believe the last bit. Until a nuke is dropped on TalkTalk HQ, the problem never will be solved.

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Anonymous Coward

1&1 regularly get their outgoing mail cluster in SPAM Lists

1&1 regularly get their outgoing mail cluster in SPAM Lists.

Its an absolute pain, as they seem to only get one or two IPs out of a dozen or so blacklisted. Thus my client's email mostly gets through... But a bit rubbish when you are (legitimately) trying to send to a thousand odd addresses.

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Trend are a bunch of idiots who dont understand networks or the chaos they cause

They tried this a few years ago and it affected my company and all of our clients. they listed the range 194.54.0.0/16 as a source of spam. My company is a small UK ISP, and we have a range of 1024 ip addresses in that range. Trend refused to talk to us because we were not from InterCard, a German company who owns 194.54.0.0 to 194.54.3.255. Being totally unable to comprehend that the /16 range was split into lots of /22 networks or smaller Trend just blocked an arbitrary range plucked from their arses. We had over 200 clients unable to send mail.

Despite offering to send them through all the information from RIPE, they still refused to listen to the fact that intercard did not own the whole /16 range, so I emailed TheRegister, and was soon speaking with Dan Goodin. Trends defence was "you are in a bad neighbourhood on the internet" my reply was "you are allegedly a reputation service, if my neighbour has a criminal record, does that mean i must have one as well? as that is what your reputation service is insinuating with this blanket ban of addresses". After an hour or so of back and forths, someone who was in charge of the company braincell realised they screwed up and removed the block that they initially said would take a week to remove!

I will never recommend the use of Trends services to anyone for anything, i wouldnt touch them with a stolen bargepole.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Trend are a bunch of idiots who dont understand networks or the chaos they cause

Lot of downvotes for anyone slagging off Trend in this thread, I wonder if you'll find your range blacklisted again!

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Unhappy

Re: Trend are a bunch of idiots who dont understand networks or the chaos they cause

"Despite offering to send them through all the information from RIPE, they still refused to listen to the fact that intercard did not own the whole /16 range"

oops. RBL who does not understand classless IP range can be a pain. However, reverse classes DNS (which is how RBLs are implemented) is also a pain :(

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Re: Trend are a bunch of idiots who dont understand networks or the chaos they cause

yup - perhaps it wasn't so smart telling them your IP addresses. It's nice to have an opportunity to slag off Pipex, but the real story here has to be that nuclear IP-block blacklisting is just moronic.

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Happening more often recently

I've seen a few reputable ISPs end up in Trends bad books recently. Not sure what they are playing at...

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removals fees?

I would not be shocked to hear that the large ISP's are paying a removals or admin fee. If you run a well known RBL, admin fees are a good revenue earner - until people drop your BL.

SORBS "admin fees/charitable donations" or the spamhaus fee fiasco anyone?

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Anonymous Coward

To hell with Godwin's law

If Adolf Hitler were alive today, I'd make him surf the Interwebs with Pipex.

That'd learn him.

Maybe I'm still not over joining Pipex in the 90s and seeing what happened after the Rickards family sold 97% of their souls to the devil...

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Obvious Solution

Just pass a law making it illegal for contracts between ISPs and their customers to in any way restrict or limit lawsuits if one's E-mail service fails to work reliably due to negligence on the part of the ISP in swiftly dealing with spam complaints... and incidents like this would stop happening.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Obvious Solution

Yeah that'll work, just like making killing people illegal has stopped all murders happening.

I really wish people would stop looking for specific laws to be passed for every little thing that could go wrong - they don't make matters any better, they just make more money for the legal profession and clog up the courts with pointless litigation.

If your ISP is unable to fulfil your needs to your satisfaction, move on and find an ISP who does.

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Re: Obvious Solution

Agreed, move ISPs - And with no penalties if the old ISP has broken the contract by failing to supply a reasonable service. Making them pay costs would be even better - e.g. changing your email address*

* Yes, I know you can have a persistent address, run your own mail server etc. But 99% of the world shouldn't need to.

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Mushroom

As a mail server administrator I find spam blackholes only seem to bother legitimate customers because the mail they send disappears and they have no idea if it's delivered, waiting in queue, or MIA. Spammers don't give a damn about blackholes themselves since they are mostly fire and forget types anyway, or they snowshoe from 200 different sources.

Now, to be clear I am calling a it a blackhole when you knowing accept a mail that you are going to /dev/null. When blocking mail by RBL, especially from services that have residential and non-spam oriented business it is polite to permanently reject the message with a 553 error during the setup of the SMTP session. The spam never enters your system that way and the remote system has a chance to tell the user that something has gone wrong. The remote host then has the responsibility of bouncing the message to only users in it's realm of control (ex: hotmail shouldn't bounce bounced messages to gmail).

That said I do have a good number of pure spam subnets set to DROP on the firewall, no need to waste resources checking IPs that are going to fail anyway.

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Replying to myself to add more...

If you are an ISP and not a hosting provider you should block your customers from sending to port 25 (on your service) altogether and switch to submission. http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2476.txt All smtp sessions should also be authenticated to prevent forging return addresses and to have a quick way to stop a spam bot that's compromised a users password. Also have your server add an X-antiabuse header with a contact address that you check, makes it a little easier for people to report spam to you. Depending on the type of customer and contract with them it's a good idea to throttle the number of messages their account can send per hour/day so they don't burst out a bunch of spam before they get blocked. Best to have a system that makes it easy for a tech to increase your limits if needed.

Dealing with spam on your own network isn't hard, but it does require developing a good system, and it will make some of your customers angry. Some won't want to change what they are doing, and other are spammers themselves. The penalty for not doing to is evident in the article.

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Basic lesson

Never, ever ignore abuse reports. If you will? Disable all mail servers and offload them to a company which does really care and manage.

Even their abuse@ bounces therefore they are listed in simplest rbl, rfc-ignorant. I wonder how many SpamCop.net reports they ignored if they ignore organic mail from freaking trend micro, one of big 4 enterprise security providers.

While on it, even if you won't use their mail service, take a good look to your hosting provider or even home isp on services like senderbase.org or SpamCop.net . Ability to handle abuse really provides a good insight into their management of network.

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Anonymous Coward

Friday 25th May - Pipex vs Trend happenig again

Just to alert Pipex customers - the issue has started all over again i.e. if you send (and maybe if someone tries to send to you) to servers which have Trend AV installed or similar, the email does not get through - and alarmingly does not generate an instant bounce back, so you are not aware.

Dido Harding is Chief Exec, and this is one time when Twitter might be useful...

http://www.talktalkgroup.com/about-us/introduction-from-ceo.aspx

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