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Legitimate Mail blocking by Virgin Media.

Before I begin.

Let me start by saying that although my signature bears the Virgin logo, I do not work for Virgin Media.  The Superusers are users who have been identified by Virgin as being helpful in the advice we give, and as such we have been given special status.  However all advice we give is not endorsed by Virgin Media and aims where possible to be impartial.

I did not want to write this but I feel that Virgin Media have had more than enough time to address the above issue in a responsible manner.  Yet here we are, in some cases over a year into the new email service, and still the situation drags on.

Introduction.

When Virgin Media took e-mail back "in-house" after Google closed their apps for ISP service.  They took a decision regarding the default settings of the Spam Filters.

That decision was to Reject Mail Deemed to be spam.  It should be noted that Virgin Media Customers themselves can change those settings.  I myself did so as soon as I was migrated, details on how to do this can be found in my post here from Jan 27th 2016.

http://community.virginmedia.com/t5/Email/Ravenstar-s-Email-FAQ-s/m-p/3026118#M129705

Since the changeover companies and individuals sending to Virgin Media domains have seen delivery failures with Spam Content Found.  While the Forum Staff do work with individual senders to identify the causes, this is a slow process, and is ultimately flawed.

Notable Examples of Legitimate senders being blocked.

Travelodge
Crowne Plaza Hotel
Motor Neurone Disease Association
NHS
Playstation Network
Staples
Serif
Creative Technologies
Stardock Entertainment

The above list is by no means exhaustive, but is meant to be illustrative of the problem.  These are not small outfits that are being incorrectly identified as spammers.  These are well known organisations.

Responsibilities of an Email Provider

While Virgin are an ISP, by continuing to provide e-mail services they have taken on certain responsibilities.

  • That legitimate mail should be delivered to users
  • That it be delivered in a timely fashion
  • That where possible spam should be correctly filtered.

By incorrectly flagging legitimate mail as spam, Virgin are failing to discharge those responsibilities.  Virgin have also compounded the issue by adding rate limiting to their raft of anti spam measures in June.

On the issue of Spam filtering.  I note that while pretty much the majority of spam now ends up where it belongs, I still get false positives in my spam folder from some of the organisations listed above.  Note that for every user who has not changed those settings, this represents another legitimate mail bounced by Virgin Media.

What can Virgin Media Do?

One of the key things I've asked for is that Virgin Media force a blanket change of the default spam setting from Reject Mail to Mark as Spam and deliver to Spam folder.  This to me is one of the main things that could have reduced the headaches for senders, and prevented incorrect bouncing of e-mails.  That they have failed to do this IMHO means that they fave failed in a duty of care to their customers and senders alike.

Once they have done that, they can address the issues of false positives, in fact it may well be possible to do this without further involving senders.  But even if the false positives were still ongoing, customers would at least be getting their mail.

What can Virgin Media customers do?

In the absence of action by Virgin Media customers need to do the following.

  1. Log into webmail for each of your accounts and change the default spam setting as detailed in the link above.
  2. If using an email client (Outlook/Thunderbird/Windows Live Mail) Then configure the account to use IMAP rather than POP3.  POP3 only downloads mail from the INBOX, whereas IMAP shows you the entire folder structure as it exists on the server.
  3. Train the spam filters by using the Spam/Not Spam buttons in the Inbox/and Spam Folders in webmail.  The fact that most of my spam now ends up in the spam folder means that they can work.
  4. If using an IMAP client moving the mail to the respective folder, SHOULD also train the spam filters as to what you want and what you don't
  5. If you have a particular sender you want to get through.  Add the email address of that sender (if known) to your address book in web mail.  This should whitelist that sender.  I've confirmed it works myself.

On point 4, I steadfastly refuse to add newsletter email addresses to my address book.  To me the only addresses that should be there are addresses I want to send to.  While I've agreed to receive these newsletters and will unsubscribe should  I choose to.  I believe Virgin Media need to address the fact that the filters consistently refuse to learn that I want these in my Inbox.

What can senders do?

Affected organisations should IMHO make the issue visible to Virgin Media customers who might want to use their service.  As such I believe it's appropriate to notify customers with a notice on your home page that you are having issues sending to Virgin Media because of this.  Such a notice could also include a link to the post on how to fix the issue.

Is it unprofessional to do this?  If worded correctly, no it's not.

They should also continue to post in these Forums and the Forum Team will continue to liase with the postmaster in order to resolve this.

Additionally the Spam filters do seem to take note of the IP address being blacklisted.  So it may well be worth checking if your outgoing servers are on any lists.  Note the blacklists are run by third parties who provide their service to various companies.

Conclusion

The people responsible for the e-mail service should hang their heads in shame.  This situation has been allowed to persist for far too long, and the policy of dealing with senders on an individual basis, is nothing short of ridiculous.

Setting the spam filters to reject by default was a disaster waiting to happen.  No one should ever trust "state of the art" IT to work right first time, and while one does not expect a knee jerk reaction to issues, nor does one expect issues with delivery to drag on over 12 months.

Spam filtering requires two key metrics

1. Spam Identified
2. False positives.

Regardless of the success or failure of the first, if the second is too high, your spam filtering is broken and should be urgently assessed.  Except because Virgin Media chose to reject spam.

It's impossible to determine how many false positives they have had.  But bearing in mind the profile of some of the companies being rejected, the amount of customers Virgin Media has, and the amount of time this has gone on for, we're most likely looking at billions of e-mails.

Ravenstar68

 

 

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Message 2 of 17
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Re: Legitimate Mail blocking by Virgin Media.

ravenstar68, I read your post with interest. You make it sounds as if Virginmedia had taken the wrong decision, and as if the fix was easy: deliver spam to the spam folder, do not bounce. I believe you are mistaken.

I much prefer a bounced email for this simple reason: when an incoming message is classified as spam and delivered to the spam folder, the sender does not know of this, and the message will most likely never be seen again. Most recipients don't check their spam folders, and if they do, struggle to tell the good ones from the bad ones (ham from spam). A wise user errs on the side of caution. If, however, the message bounces, a legitimate sender can do something about it. 

If something needs lobbying for, then it is

(a) for all email senders (SMTP servers) to use DKIM and SPF. These are technologies which tell the recipient that the email was actually sent by the organisation it claims to be,

(b) for all email receivers and their spam filters to honour DKIM and SPF, and 

(c) for legitimate senders of bulk email to review their policies. Clubs and community groups often send bulk email to large TO or CC lists and may therefore be seen as a spam candidate; these messages should be send with BCC not only to reduce the risk of being mistaken for a bulk spammer, but also in light of the Data Protection Act. 

One remaining problem sometimes discussed in the forum is that users of Virgin Media email, or some other email service, report their email address being used in spoof emails sent through the same Virgin Media email server. Technologies like SPF and DKIM cannot prevent this as far as I know, only digital signatures can. 

Plaintext emails are the equivalent of an unsealed postcard, easy to read by anyone, easy to fake. Slowly but surely awareness for data privacy grows, and so does support for encrypted and digitally signed email. These technologies are readily available but are slow in the uptake due to widespread ignorance in the matter, and due to the non-trivial set-up of keys and some-such. This is not helped by the fact that most email users use "free email" services such as those provided by Google, Microsoft and many others. It is not in the interest of providers of free email services to support or endorse email encryption, because they want to read email and improve their targeted advertising based on what they read, but they could at least support digital signatures. 

Digital signatures make it impossible to change an email and make spoofing email much harder, maybe impossible (not sure to be honest). 

I hope you found this response of interest. There are almost always more than two views and solutions to everything on subjects like these. Righteous messages with accusations of failure to discharge certain responsibilities are a pretty big calibre in the discussion of a complex, multi-faceted subject like this. 

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Message 3 of 17
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Re: Legitimate Mail blocking by Virgin Media.

I've been working with ravenstar68 on this issue with VM so I fully associate myself with his post and comments.

Your argument would be all well and good from a technology and practical point of view if the world were perfect and all e-mail senders adhered to full RFC standards (though there would still be room for discussion even then as to what those standards meant). VM don't full adhere to DMARC for example and deprecating the use of SMTP port 25, which they still allow at the risk of customer security. If VM won't do that, what hope do we have of achieving the kind of standards compliance you expect and want around the world never mind in the UK with one of our biggest ISPs?

So most importantly your argument fails utterly on the grounds of practicality. It too easily dismisses the very real fact that the VM spam filters are capricious in their approach with an approach that is clearly Utopian. The filters consistently and erroneously mark as spam that which is ham and vice versa. So customers now have an issue in not receiving mail that they should because of erroneous rejections. That is intolerable in a day and age when we have come to rely extensively on e-mail for our business and personal lives.

In the face of this what is the customer to do? The only thing is to follow the advice on spam settings until VM take the necessary action to sort out their filtering.  By comparison with e-mail senders trying vainly to communicate with their customers about bounced mail,  changing spam settings and/or setting a sensible default is a small and more easily rectified matter.  We criticise VM or being far too optimistic at the beginning of the migration to the new system about the quality of their spam filtering and being too dilatory afterwards to take meaningful corrective action for the benefit of their customers.

But I for one will always want to be final arbiter on what is and what is not spam.  I changed my spam settings within 2 minutes of migration to the new e-mail system. And I can tell the difference between the two types of meat.


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Re: Legitimate Mail blocking by Virgin Media.


w7 wrote:

ravenstar68, I read your post with interest. You make it sounds as if Virginmedia had taken the wrong decision, and as if the fix was easy: deliver spam to the spam folder, do not bounce. I believe you are mistaken.

I much prefer a bounced email for this simple reason: when an incoming message is classified as spam and delivered to the spam folder, the sender does not know of this, and the message will most likely never be seen again. Most recipients don't check their spam folders, and if they do, struggle to tell the good ones from the bad ones (ham from spam). A wise user errs on the side of caution. If, however, the message bounces, a legitimate sender can do something about it. 

And if these senders are ONLY being bounced by one company - what does that say about the companies policies.  Also note that Virgin are bouncing and delaying transactional mails.  That is mails that are sent in response to user interaction, say ordering goods online.

If something needs lobbying for, then it is

(a) for all email senders (SMTP servers) to use DKIM and SPF. These are technologies which tell the recipient that the email was actually sent by the organisation it claims to be,

SPF is good but it's flawed in that it doesn't survive forwarding.  DKIM is better, but there are even circumstances where a DKIM signature will fail.  It should be noted that in many cases bounced senders are using SPF, and in some cases using DKIM as well.

(b) for all email receivers and their spam filters to honour DKIM and SPF, and 

That's why the DMARC standard has been introduced.  It not only provides sending administrators with feedback, it also allows them to tell recipients what to do should SPF or DKIM fail

(c) for legitimate senders of bulk email to review their policies. Clubs and community groups often send bulk email to large TO or CC lists and may therefore be seen as a spam candidate; these messages should be send with BCC not only to reduce the risk of being mistaken for a bulk spammer, but also in light of the Data Protection Act.

The problem is that clubs and community groups will ask users to opt out of any mailing lists when signing up, as do all legitimate companies.  A few enlightened ones use opt in rather than opt out.  But the fact is that mail from these organisations is not classed as spam for this very reason.  Spam is unsolicited mail that no one has asked to receive.  While the ICO has said he would prefer companies to use opt in, he stopped short of making it mandatory.

One remaining problem sometimes discussed in the forum is that users of Virgin Media email, or some other email service, report their email address being used in spoof emails sent through the same Virgin Media email server. Technologies like SPF and DKIM cannot prevent this as far as I know, only digital signatures can. 

Is someone is sending spoof e-mails through Virgin Media's servers, particularly if from outside the Virgin network, they first need a username and password before the send is allowed.  Virgin can see which username was used to authenticate the send.  These are the users who get letters from Virgin saying their account was used to send spam.

Plaintext emails are the equivalent of an unsealed postcard, easy to read by anyone, easy to fake. Slowly but surely awareness for data privacy grows, and so does support for encrypted and digitally signed email. These technologies are readily available but are slow in the uptake due to widespread ignorance in the matter, and due to the non-trivial set-up of keys and some-such. This is not helped by the fact that most email users use "free email" services such as those provided by Google, Microsoft and many others. It is not in the interest of providers of free email services to support or endorse email encryption, because they want to read email and improve their targeted advertising based on what they read, but they could at least support digital signatures. 

Actually DKIM is making mails harder to fake.  Remember the body and selected header fields are hashed using a private key on the server to make the DKIM signature.  When the receiving system gets the mail it uses the public key to see if the hash matches.  In fact one educational establishment forwarding mails from a Yahoo account to a Virgin Media account actually added a footer which invalidated the DKIM signature.  As a result the mail was rejected as per Yahoo's DMARC policy. 

Digital signatures make it impossible to change an email and make spoofing email much harder, maybe impossible (not sure to be honest). 

See above

I hope you found this response of interest. There are almost always more than two views and solutions to everything on subjects like these. Righteous messages with accusations of failure to discharge certain responsibilities are a pretty big calibre in the discussion of a complex, multi-faceted subject like this. 


It would be nice if Spam filters worked right 100% of the time but they don't.  So trusting them to bounce mail is bad.  Also remember this.  Spammers often don't put their own e-mail address as the From: address.  So at best if a spam is bounced, the  bounce goes nowhere.  At worst it ends up in the inbox of some poor innocent who had nothing to do with sending it in the first place.

Trusting a computer to filter your mail without maintaining some oversight of what it's filtering is BAD.  Computers are not perfect, they are programmed by flawed beings (us).  In fact the more someone says that a system is state of the art, the less I trust it.

Ravenstar68

 

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Re: Legitimate Mail blocking by Virgin Media.

I thank you for your response and filling me in with some details about DKIM and DMARC. I had not been aware of the latter, but will now read up on it. 

While you or your friend may be able to tell ham from spam, many users can't. The technology must become sufficient so that they don't have to. I think it perfectly possible that Virgin Media doesn't use the best technology, and if there is room for improvement, that improvement should be made rather than letting Uncle Jack figure the difference between a genuine message from the online banking site and a spoof. 

I do not at all think this a futuristic view, but agree that Virgin Media's technology may be in need of improvement. I use a different system with almost perfect success. 

You had your say. I had mine. Virgin Media will consider both or ignore both. I wanted to make sure that your views in the matter do not stand here alone as the sole opinion on the subject; done that, over & out.

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Message 6 of 17
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Re: Legitimate Mail blocking by Virgin Media.

You might change your tune if you end up don't getting e-mail that should get to you.

Here's the reality.

NHS patients have missed appointments because the New NHS system was having trouble mailing patients using ntlworld.com and virginmedia.com addresses

http://www.northantstelegraph.co.uk/news/health/northamptonshire-nhs-governor-says-email-system-prob...

Motor Neurone disease association - unable to e-mail Virgin Media domains.

http://community.virginmedia.com/t5/Email/blueyonder-ntlworld-and-virgin-media-SPAM/m-p/3112319#M124...

Crowne Plaza Hotel - unable to e-mail Virgin Media domains.

http://community.virginmedia.com/t5/Email/Email-blocked-as-Spam/m-p/3026306#M113886

Customer not getting confirmation of her Travelodge bookings

http://community.virginmedia.com/t5/Email/Confirmation-of-booking-emails-from-Travelodge-not-getting...

Glasgow University- the same

http://community.virginmedia.com/t5/Email/Whitelist-LMS/m-p/3217746#M132848

Now these represent a miniscule portion of the issues seen over the last year.  They are not minor companies, they are respected companies and institutions.  Now I for one would love for the Spam filters to be working 100%, but the fact is they aren't.  Now  if you don't get a newsletter that's one thing.

 But what happens if you miss important information about an appointment booking lets say for a hip operation?  As a result you miss your operation and have to wait for another appointment.  In this case it's more than just mere inconvenience, you end up being left potentially in pain for longer than you need to be.

Now what I'm asking for by no means represents the end of what needs doing - but it is a fix that can make the difference between a legitimate email being delivered or bounced.

Bear in mind that on occasion I've had the opportunity to check some headers.  Many are using SPF, and some are also using DKIM - I've had a mail delivered from Staples today, that ended up in my spam folder.  Guess what.  It was signed with DKIM and SPF.  Now I opted to receive newsletters from Staples, so it isn't spam.  If I no longer want it, I will unsubscribe - but the fact is that every mail that ends up in my Spam bin that shouldn't be there, represents thousands of mails that will be bounced that shouldn't be.

They are also mails that are received by respected mail providers such as Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook on the Web (formerly Hotmail) and more.

This situation cannot be allowed to continue.

Ravenstar68

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Re: Legitimate Mail blocking by Virgin Media.

And there must be no more excuses provided which would allow VM to prevaricate further in alleviating the situation while the spam filters are sorted.

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Re: Legitimate Mail blocking by Virgin Media.

I go along 100% with ravenstar68's comments. While I am a heavy user of VM Internet, Broadband, Phone and Mobile I gave up on their email quite so time ago. I have always, even before joining what was then Cable London, had my own domain and email address. I used to have this redirected to my Blueyonder account, but have now moved it to another email provider. This seemed the most sensible move after having lost some critical emails. While not necessarily recommending this action to everybody, it has worked exceeding well for me.


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Re: Legitimate Mail blocking by Virgin Media.

 I've taken the liberty of writing to my local MP about this issue.  I feel that Virgin have had more than enough time to put their house in order and that their continued stance on this is detrimental to customers and senders alike.

He in turn is raising this with the Digital and Culture secretary.

I do urge anyone who is still being affected by this, both senders and Virgin customers, to contact their local MP, email addresses can be found here

http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/

The profile of this issue needs to be raised as much as possible IMHO.

Ravenstar68

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Message 10 of 17
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Re: Legitimate Mail blocking by Virgin Media.


ravenstar68 wrote:

 I've taken the liberty of writing to my local MP about this issue.  I feel that Virgin have had more than enough time to put their house in order and that their continued stance on this is detrimental to customers and senders alike.


It's really serious now.  Pulling out all the stops.  No holds barred.  We have indeed reached the stage of limericks for MPs!  Whatever next, not the dreaded social media... 

My dearest, most helpful, local MP,
Virgin mail, what a calamity!
With senders rejected
And complaints neglected
Could you please intervene tactfully?

----

Virgin Media's lack of delivery of legitimate email and insufficient tools and response times for senders encountering unusual problems not occurring at other email providers absolutely deserves escalation.  There have been a significant number of government senders affected.  Here are a selection which come to mind from this much longer list of complaints,

http://wardinewrock.blogspot.com/2016/05/legitimate-emails-blocked-to-virgin.html

2016 October 18
International visas not delivered to Virgin Media account, same correspondence delivered to Yahoo account
http://community.virginmedia.com/t5/Email/Important-e-mail-not-being-received/m-p/3236293#M134220

2016 September 26-ish
Benefits provider for the UK Emergency Service, NHS and Armed Forces unable to deliver newsletters to Virgin Media accounts
http://community.virginmedia.com/t5/Email/Emails-to-ntlworld-com-rejected-with-quot-Spam-Content-Fou...

2016 September 26
Nottingham City Council unable to deliver "What's On" messages to 2,500 Virgin Media addresses
http://community.virginmedia.com/t5/Email/Emails-to-virginmedia-com-addresses-failing/td-p/3115216/p...

2016 August 10
Unable to forward local government council email message
http://community.virginmedia.com/t5/Email/Spam-content-found-on-email-I-tried-to-forward-that-wasn-t...

2016 July 18
Delayed messages from the pensionsregulator.gov.uk
http://community.virginmedia.com/t5/Email/Non-delivery-issues-to-ntlworld-blueyonder-virgin-net-user...

2016 May 17
Northamptonshire NHS unable to email Virgin Media accounts, resulting in missed appointments, Northamptonshire Telegraph
http://www.northantstelegraph.co.uk/news/health/health-news/northamptonshire-nhs-governor-says-email...

2016 April 20
Job-interview confirmation from UK.gov not delivered to Virgin Media account
http://community.virginmedia.com/t5/Email-Cloud-and-webspace/Virgin-is-blocking-certain-emails-comin...

2016 April 20
Emails from Kent County Council not delivered to Virgin Media account
http://community.virginmedia.com/t5/Email-Cloud-and-webspace/Blocked-e-mails/m-p/3094755/highlight/t...

2015 December 15
GovDelivery, local, state, and federal gov / agencies in UK and US, unable to deliver messages to ntlworld accounts
http://community.virginmedia.com/t5/Email/ntlworld-com-blocking-service-govdelivery-com/td-p/2992539...

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