Saturday, May 03, 2014

If you've had trouble recently with email to Yahoo! or AOL addresses, perhaps I can explain

Just over a week ago, on April 23, I found these two emails in my Yahoo! inbox (I've deleted links and images for obvious reasons, but here are the texts):
Dear Customer,

Access to e-mail is about to expire,
We recommend that you upgrade your account to avoid suspension.
Please open the attachment to update your account.

Thank You.
Yahoo Inc
While you may think the wording of this email a trifle awkward, it was a masterpiece compared with this gem:
Dear Valued user,

Your email account will be blocked in response to a complaint received by the administration.
According to provision 13.3 of Terms and Conditions, Yahoo may at any time, terminate its
Services for your account and all your data will be lost.
You have to upgrade now to the newest Yahoo! Mail to avoid this termination process.
Once your account is upgraded, we will restore your account to its normal state.Click here
[address deleted]

Kindly note that you have to perform this upgrade as soon as possible to avoid loosing your account data.

Thank You for Being A Loyal Yahoo! Mail User

We hope you enjoy the newest version of Yahoo! Mail.

Yahoo Mail Team
Copyright © 2014 Mail! Inc
Yahoo! Mail
I mean, seriously, who wants loose account data? Keep your data tight; that's what I say!

I dutifully marked these beauties as spam and consigned them to oblivion.

Other things weighed more heavily on my mind that Wednesday. I was in Indianapolis, with my wife and my daughter Brigid, because my other daughter Katie had just given birth to our second grandchild.

(Thank you.)

My wife and Brigid were the front-line troops, assisting Katie. I was either providing logistical support or a camp follower, depending on whether I had an assignment at any given time. Either way, back in the rear echelons, I had some time to remain at least in tenuous communication with pending matters via email on my smart phone.

My efforts met with decidedly mixed results.

Several emails bounced back, marked "undeliverable." I was not then inclined to investigate the causes; I was willing to accept any number of excuses.

I was willing, for example, to put it down to some fault of my own in emailing from a smart phone. (I'm still a smart phone newbie. I was reluctant, for many years, to acquire an inanimate object that was demonstrably smarter than me. I may or may not have gotten angry when I was told that, if this was indeed my objection, I should also give up my tables and chairs.)

I speculated that the wireless connection might be shaky in the hospital. (I seem to recall a time when using mobile phones in hospitals was strictly verboten, supposedly because it might possibly make Mr. Jones' pacemaker in Room 319 do the St. Vitus' dance. It was only after every doctor, then every nurse, then every technician, food server, and maintenance person, began using their phones in an open and notorious manner in every corner of every hospital -- flouting their telephony in front of patients and visitors alike -- all without any apparent harm to Mr. Jones -- that the signs forbidding cellphone use were finally, and perhaps somewhat sheepishly, retired.)

I was even willing to accept that my problem was that I was in a foreign city, and that things would improve when I returned to Sweet Home Chicago.

And it seemed, at first, that this was the case. Another matter had jumped to the top of the priority list in my absence and all my email traffic on that matter successfully traversed the highways and byways of the Intertubes.

But when that crisis subsided, at least for the time being, I had an urgent need to return to the other matter -- and all my email problems returned. Even though I was safely back in Chicago. In my office or at home, not in a hospital. Using a desktop, not a smartphone.

It was time to stop making excuses and start investigating the problem.

Humans are supposed to be adept at pattern recognition.  I'm supposed to be human.  So I did my best: I eventually realized that I was having problems sending to Yahoo! Mail addresses. A lot of solo practitioners use Yahoo! Mail: It's free, it's easy to use, it's been around for awhile. I use a Yahoo! address for email to this blog. Oddly enough, I was getting email at that address even while I found it impossible to send emails to Yahoo! addresses.

In one case, the person I was trying to email had a personal AOL address; I tried sending to that address as well, but it also bounced back.

I know about AOL addresses. Yes, I'm old. I'm so old I remember when America On Line was state-of-the-art. I've used an AOL address for business emails for decades. It's been sort of a constant for me: I've had several offices since 1998, and every time I've moved I've had to change phone numbers (one time I moved literally across the street and around the corner and the phone company still decreed that this was somehow 'too far' to take my phone number). Every time I've changed phone numbers -- even with paying the extra fee for call forwarding the from the old number -- I feel as though I've lost business. But the AOL address has remained the same.

But I have changed, somewhat, with the times. Back in 2007, when my oldest son John was about to graduate from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in computer engineering, he decided to set me up in Gmail. Email would still go to my AOL address but be 'swept' into the shiny, new Gmail account. When I sent mail it would appear to come from my trusty AOL account.

This system has worked well for me for seven years. Until last week.

In calling colleagues to set up work-arounds with attorneys having Yahoo! addresses, I discovered that many of my fellow lawyers were having troubles, too -- not necessarily in sending emails out, but in opening attachments that they did receive.

Frustrated, I reached out again to my son John, now a technical architect (whatever that is) with Accenture. It took him less than five minutes to find and send me an April 25 article posted on ZDNet, "AOL, Yahoo email problems show limits of email security." I read the author's explanation of "DMARC" several times with little or no comprehension. The part that I think I understand is reproduced below:
Perhaps out of frustration with all the phishing and other abuse using their domains, both AOL and Yahoo have recently published DMARC policies to reject email purportedly from: their domains which fails DMARC tests. The problem with this is that lots of legitimate email fails DMARC tests, the most prominent example being mailing lists. Lists commonly modify various headers in when sending content out, so when a message from: an AOL or Yahoo user goes to a mailing list, and the mail server for recipients of the message checks DMARC, it will reject the message and send a bounce.

* * * The policy blocks a lot of spam, but a lot of legit mail in the process. AOL and Yahoo so far are suggesting that everyone change the way they have always done things in order to work within the new restrictions.
John tried to explain to me that -- after seven years -- Yahoo! and AOL had suddenly decided that email sent from my AOL address, via my Gmail account, to any Yahoo! or AOL address, would now be marked for rejection as likely spam. Sure enough, a couple of days later, I received a lengthy email from AOL which read, in pertinent part,
Recently, our systems alerted us to an increased incidence of email users receiving spam emails from "spoofed" AOL email addresses. AOL's security team immediately began investigating the cause of the spoofed emails. Spoofing is a tactic used by spammers to make it appear that the message is from you in order to trick the recipient into opening it. These emails do not originate from the AOL Mail system – the addresses are just edited to make them appear that way.
So because my business emails don't "originate from the AOL Mail system," but only "appear that way," I am now a "spoofer."

So here is how matters now stand: AOL and Yahoo! have invented an email system that eliminates all the business email and lets through only the spam.

Too harsh?

Here's an email I found in my Yahoo! inbox just this morning (not in the spam filter, in the inbox):
Yahoo Mail©
To Me

Account Information


Your Account is about to expire

Click here to renew

Thank you for helping us protect you.

Yahoo! Membership Service

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