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July 21, 2007

Is Delivery of Your E-mail Important to You?

E-mail is the most important functionality provided by the Internet today.

To enhance our services, we have made several changes and notified all our e-mail customers. We have also made recommendations to our customers, which have sparked questions.

Although the questions stemmed from changes, Realtown suggested to our e-mail customers, these questions and answers might also apply to you.

It is important for you to know that the reason Realtown is making changes in our e-mail strategy is to help our customers stay ahead of the curve and on top of the shifts in technology and this case specifically "Delivery of e-mail."

What you will discover in the Q & A below, is that more and more e-mail sent via the Internet is not being delivered and what is worse is that the sender doesn't even know it. This statement regarding non-delivery is not a scare tactic; it is for real and happening every day.

As a point of reference, InternetCrusade handles the delivery of millions of pieces of e-mail destined for tens of thousands of recipients daily. And we log each communication, in and out. While this isn't a large number as compared to all the e-mail sent every day on the Internet, it is a large enough sampling to get accurate readings on trends in the market including policies and procedures which are currently being implemented by different e-mail carriers which 'refuse data' (e-mail and attachments) if not perfectly 'authenticated'.

We have verified these new policies by contacting the different e-mail carriers ourselves.

For the Record, all our mail (which is properly addressed) is being delivered but as a result of what we think can happen to YOU caused unexpectedly by acts of hackers, Realtown has put in place additional systems, (servers), to accommodate those who want to further ensure that their e-mail will be delivered.

As always, if anyone has additional questions or needs help understanding other parts of the e-mail system and e-mail hosting or hosting in general, don't hesitate to ask.

Mike Barnett, VP Technology, mailto:Mike@InternetCrusade.com http://www.Realtown.com VP Technology, http://TheUnitedStatesOfAmerica.com ;-)

Here are some of the questions we will answer:
  • How will the changes InternetCrusade is making affect me?
  • What is an SMTP server?
  • If I can still send e-mail without making changes, then why are you asking me to make changes?
  • What policies are e-mail carriers putting in place that could affect me?
  • What is a Relay Server?
  • What is Authentication?
  • How do you know if the server you are on is a Relay Server?
  • What methods does InternetCrusade use to ensure delivery of its customer's e-mail?
  • Have you found an e-mail that couldn't be delivered?
  • Well, I am not a hacker or a Spammer, so why me?
  • How can I be a target, how does this happen?
  • What are the consequences if someone was to disguise themselves as me?
  • If I change my SMTP server to that of my ISP (instead of InternetCrusade's SMTP server). Will I still be able to use my Domain in my reply address ("Me@Me.com" instead of Me@MyISP.com)?
QUESTION: How will the changes you are making affect me?

(Mike Barnett is the CTO and VP Technology of InternetCrusade®. InternetCrusade is the creator and provider of e-PRO (NAR’s only technology certification course) as well as the host of RealTown.com, the oldest and most respected social networking site in real estate.  InternetCrusade also manages tens of thousands of e-mail accounts representing millions of pieces of e-mail on a daily basis.)

ANSWER: The first point to understand is that if you were to change nothing in your e-mail settings. You will still be able to send e-mail as you are now, with our SMTP servers. I emphasize 'send', because we are not making any changes to our 'receive' functions at all.

QUESTION: What is an SMTP server?

ANSWER: An SMTP server accepts and transfers e-mail and attachments (if any). SMTP stands for Simple Mail Transfer Protocol which is a standard for sending packets of information (e-mail and attachments).

QUESTION: If I can still send e-mail without making changes, then why are you asking me to make changes? I (and my friends) don't like changes, and this e-mail system is confusing enough already, and these new changes you are asking us to make are worse than a 'root canal. ;-)

ANSWER: The changes we are implementing at InternetCrusade, and you are reading about in the announcements, are being introduced due to current trends we see in the acceptance and transfer of electronic communications (e-mail and attachments). As a result of our research, we have discovered new policies and procedures, which are being put in place by e-mail carriers primarily to combat the rise of malicious hackers and Spam.

QUESTION: What policies are e-mail carriers putting in place that could affect me?

ANSWER: Our research has indicated to us that many IPSs are beginning to institute a policy of refusing the delivery of electronic data (e-mail and attachments), specifically if the data didn't arrive from an 'authenticated' user, and more importantly, not from a relay server.

QUESTION: What is a Relay Server?

ANSWER: A Relay Server is an SMTP server, which does not require authentication.

QUESTION: What is Authentication?

ANSWER: Authentication is confirming the machine that the SMTP server is receiving the mail from in the first instance. This doesn't prevent Spam, but you can isolate the Spammer (machine) with Authentication.

QUESTION: How do you know if the server you are on is a Relay Server?

ANSWER: You can find out if the mail server in question is listed as a 'relay server' by going to http://www.ORBS.org  (which was down at the time of writing this message). There are many mail hosts that will not accept mail if it is from a server on this list.

QUESTION: What methods does InternetCrusade use to ensure delivery of its customer's e-mail?

ANSWER: We log all e-mail in and out of our servers and more importantly, we have in place a system which monitors any delay "for any reason" and notifies us immediately. We then examine the piece of e-mail and the error message.

QUESTION: Does this mean that some of InternetCrusade's mail doesn't get through to the customer?

ANSWER: All of InternetCrusade's mail that "could be delivered," "has been delivered."

QUESTION: Well then, have you found an e-mail that couldn't be delivered?

ANSWER: Absolutely, and don't let this be of a shock. The reason you might be in shock is that most e-mail carriers do not notify the sender of the problems.

QUESTION: You didn't answer my question. What e-mail is not being delivered?

ANSWER: To date, the only non-delivery of mail that we can trace falls into "User Error." Most of these errors are comprised of typos.. like Someone@Earthlinkkkk.com or You@YourDomain.cm or worse ;-)

SIDE NOTE FOR REALTOWN(ER) CUSTOMERS. This is a major feature for InternetCrusade(r) customers. When our technicians are notified of mail delivery errors and see the typos in the addresses of the ISP, they correct them and send them on to our customer. We don't return them to the sender if we can fix them for our customers. For Instance, an e-mail destined for Mike@InternetCrusade.cm will be changed to Mike@InternetCrusade.com (.cm to .com) and forwarded. This is a service we have been supplying behind the scenes from day one and a type of service you rarely get from another mail host. If mail is important to you, then you will want services like this.

QUESTION: Well, I am not a hacker or a Spammer so why me?

ANSWER: This is the point at hand. Most current e-mail users, including those who use their domain, l people in business, are wonderful targets for hackers. You are not alone; there are tens of millions,

QUESTION: I still don't understand?

ANSWER: What is happening is that hackers (thousands and thousands of them) are looking for ways to 'send e-mail' (millions of pieces at a time Spam). To accomplish this, they look for e-mail users that they can disguise themselves as.

QUESTION: I still don't understand. How can I be a target, how does this happen?

ANSWER: As mentioned, the current target of the hacker is any e-mail user who has their own domain. Think for a second about the abilities most of you now have (with your own domain). You can sit down at any computer and enter your own domain name, and reply address, in any e-mail manager and send e-mail.  If a hacker knew your Domain and e-mail address, they could disguise themselves as you. This information, the Domain name, and your e-mail address are public information on any Whois on the Internet. When you think about it, you could easily be a target.

QUESTION: What are the consequences if someone was to disguise themselves as me?

ANSWER: This is the root of Spam, and you are no different than any other e-mail user. The problem is that if a hacker did this to you, Spamed an ISP with thousands of pieces of e-mail, disguised as coming from you (and your Domain). This ISP will make an entry in their e-mail servers, refusing to accept any future pieces of e-mail from your Domain. PLEASE NOTE: our job is to help you eliminate the chance of this occurring.

What could make matters worse, ISPs and Mail carriers might take more drastic measures and shut down mail from the server the domain sits on so this could affect everyone on the server, not just the one Domain. That is why we will have different levels of security and why if our users don't change anything, they will still be able to send and receive but remain an open target.

IMPORTANT UNKNOWN FACT: Also, what is important for you to know, and we are discovering, is that this refusal of e-mail is being done by ISPs without telling their customers and without notifying the sender that the mail was not delivered.

We at Realtown see and understand the task at hand and have a solution in place on behalf of our e-mail customers, "on our end" to ensure to our customers that their e-mail can go to 'all' ISPs.

As a solution, and to help prevent the possibility of any of our customers' mail from not being delivered, we are now offering an 'additional' higher level of security for our customers who want to take advantage of it. Some asked why we didn't just keep the existing system and not make a fuss. The reason we have two systems, and we did not emphasize that we are 'keeping' the existing level of service, is that we feel that our customers (all of whom are business users and want to have all their e-mail delivered as this is not a 'hobby' to them) should make the necessary changes to help secure the delivery of their e-mail.

To accomplish this goal, in order to send mail through the new servers (remember the existing servers are not being changed), the customer will have to 'authenticate' as to who they are with our servers.

QUESTION: When you say Authenticate, what do you mean?

ANSWER: In this instance, we mean authenticating to be verifying who the mail is being received from, and specifically the machine it is coming from, so if someone knows how to get to your machine and has your username and password, they can be authenticated.

QUESTION: Outlook has an authentication feature. Why not use that?

ANSWER: We looked at this option, and we found that the exact same authentication feature didn't exist in all versions of Outlook and Outlook Express or many versions of other e-mail managers. In short, there were too many versions to accommodate. We are also looking at an authentication server, but that required many more steps for the user (logging on each time to send mail).

QUESTION: What options are you currently supporting for your new servers?

ANSWER: We are currently supporting a few different options that work well and are bulletproof (well maybe rubber bullets... because what looks like solid security now is only Swiss cheese tomorrow ;-).

IMPORTANT NOTE: Once again, our old Mail Server is not changing, but we think you will want to do like most of our other customers and utilize any possible way to helping to ensure that your E-mail will be delivered and are completing the necessary changes to make this possible.

Here are the scenarios we currently support on the new server to "Authenticate" the delivery of mail.
  1. Static IP address: An IP address (Internet Protocol) is assigned to your computer by your ISP (usually only with high-speed connections).
  2. Use your ISP's SMTP server. This suggestion usually surfaces the question,
QUESTION: If I change my SMTP server to that of my ISP (instead of InternetCrusade's SMTP server) will I still be able to use my Domain in my reply address ("Me@Me.com" instead of Me@MyISP.com)?

ANSWER: Short answer first, Yes, and rest assured that as an InternetCrusade customer, we have alternatives for all scenarios and now the long answer. Which is it depends on the ISP you are using.

I hope this information helps to keep you abreast of the changing times we live in.

If you need more information on Hosting, please send an E-mail to HostingInfo@Mike Barnett, VP Technology, mailto:Mike@InternetCrusade.com http://InternetCrusade.com VP Technology, http://TheUnitedStatesOfAmerica.com ;-)
 MailTo:HostingInfo@InternetCrusade.com

 

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