How Maps' RBL Process Works

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"NOTICE OF ADDITION TO RBL: The IP address or network, xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx, has been added to the MAPS Realtime Blackhole List (RBL)."


Finding that note in your postmaster's mailbox is a disturbing experience. The question most people ask is, "How did we get to this point?" This is the area of Mail Abuse Prevention System LLC's operation that seems to have the greatest amount of mystery and misconception attached to it.


Contrary to popular belief, there is a distinct path that must be followed between the arrival of an e-mail in the inbox of someone who did not ask for it, and a listing on the RBL. The path is always the same, though the timing and the results are not.


MAPS is charged with protecting its private network from unwanted mail. MAPS subscribers have chosen to use the MAPS lists to protect their networks based on their agreement with MAPS' criteria and methods. A provider or service bureau can be brought to MAPS' attention in one of two ways: a third-party nomination, or mail sent directly to a MAPS employee or role account. MAPS does not seek out nominations, nor does it police the industry by looking for problem areas. The problems find MAPS.


Whether a third party or MAPS itself receives an unsolicited bulk mailing, a series of events must take place prior to the submission of a nomination. In the case of a third party, MAPS requires the individual receiving the mail to take these steps. When the mailing involves one of MAPS' employees or role accounts, these steps are taken on MAPS' behalf by volunteers with no access to RBL data or processes. This allows nominations based on unsolicited mailings to MAPS to be handled with the same objectivity as third-party nominations.


The recipient of the mail (or volunteer) first must report the unsolicited mail appropriately to the sender, or to the sender's Internet service provider. The reports are typically sent to the contacts listed with abuse.net and to the postmaster at the domain. The intent of this report is to advise of the abuse and stop the behavior that allowed the unsolicited mailing to occur.


If the response to the abuse report is insufficient, the recipient is expected to employ whatever medium is needed to explain the problem to the involved parties and effect a resolution. If the mailings continue, or if there is an indication that the offending behavior will not be rectified, then, and only then, should the recipient submit a nomination to MAPS.


Once MAPS receives the nomination, it is assigned to an RBL investigator. It is the investigator's responsibility to ensure that the nominator made every effort to contact the offending parties and get them to modify their practices to prevent a repeat of the incident. If the nominator has not done this to the satisfaction of the investigator, then either the nomination will be rejected as noncompliant with MAPS' nomination requirements, or the nominator will be asked to supply the missing information.


When the nomination is complete, the investigator notifies the nominee, usually by e-mail, that MAPS is in possession of a valid and actionable nomination. The nominee is given a specific time period (usually 24 to 48 hours) to respond to MAPS with a plan for correcting the situation that precipitated the listing. At this point, MAPS is not looking for the situation to be remedied in this time frame, only for a commitment that the nominee will resolve the situation, and a proposal as to a reasonable time frame for implementation. Often, these e-mails are followed by a phone call to the nominee or its provider.


If the nominee is willing to commit to stopping the unsolicited mailings by fixing whatever allowed them to occur, MAPS will work with the nominee to find a solution and work out a reasonable and monitorable timetable for full implementation. The plans and timetables are driven by the unique circumstances surrounding each case. It is important to realize that this is not a free pass.


MAPS' staff is well aware of both the business and technical intricacies involved with the range of necessary changes. We know what it takes and how long it takes to accomplish the goal. Additionally, failure to adhere to the agreed-upon plan or continued abuses during the implementation, or both, can result in a recommendation for a listing by the investigator. The nominee would be warned that its failure to stop the abuses or to comply with the agreement is about to result in a listing.


A listing takes place only in cases in which the nominee is unwilling or unable to amend its behavior, or steadfastly ignores our attempts to contact it through standard, publicly available means. The investigator then will recommend a listing, which still must be approved by a board member.


Any nominee is free to continue to operate its business any way it wishes. If, however, its business practices remain at odds with the practices that MAPS and its subscribers find acceptable, and if the nominee refuses to remedy the situation, then MAPS takes the only recourse it can and moves to protect its network by refusing traffic from the offending Netblocks. The vast majority of our subscribers will do likewise.


MAPS considers every listing on the RBL to be a failure to educate and help the nominee adopt "Net friendly" behavior. If one of those notices appears in your inbox, we share your discomfort; but the listing did not occur without your input. Once listed, the removal can only be effected with your assistance.


• Margie Arbon is a staff member at Mail Abuse Prevention System LLC, Redwood City, CA. Reach her at margie@mail-abuse.org.
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