Don’t Be Mistaken for a Spammer: An Internet and Messaging Abuse Primer

Best Practices

internet securitySun Tzu, the brilliant 6th century general and strategist, wrote, “Know your enemy and know yourself and you will always be victorious.” In the spirit of his sage words, we created a handbook to help legitimate marketers understand the Internet and messaging abuse landscape.

Email spammers send their poison cargo in varied methods from the slow loris approach to that of a snowshoe attack. Ironically, variations of both of these attacks are common practices by legitimate marketers–but the devil is always in the details. We dive into those details in this guide. Understanding the various forms of abuse and how they’re perpetrated and perceived by an ISP help legitimate senders in differentiating their messaging streams from that of spammers.

Fighting an uphill battle

Businesses on the Internet face an uphill battle—the vast majority of the email traffic received by mailbox providers and ISPs is abhorrently bad. Virus-laden emails, phishing attacks, and other abusive communications represent over 90% of the email traffic. The metric was derived by M3AAWG (The Messaging, Malware, Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group) who surveyed their member ISPs and saw that over several years, the aggregate volume of spam remained nearly constant.

historical percent of abusive emailPreventing mimicking suspicious behavior

In our handbook, we look at a number of documented attack vectors and how they resemble, at times, the approach that big brands or high volume senders may take. Tactics like sending too slowly, or from too many IPs, can look like malicious sending patterns. Understanding the fine line between what is legitimate and what will compromise your sending reputation is a fine balance that requires industry standard email authentication technologies and a marketing strategy that seeks to comply with published best practices.

The sending community has their work cut out for them. Not only is the inbox a challenging market with short attention spans and limited dollars, the inbox is constantly under fire. In the summer of 2016 a new kind of attack vector emerged that has changed how legitimate senders construct and protect their sign up forms. ESPs sending on behalf of big and small brands alike can be weaponized under the right circumstances and turned into denial of service engines. We urge all email marketers to take stock of how spammers operate—spam is not a shrinking violet, or a new normal, it’s a constant battle that we all have to pitch in and fight.

Check out our guide to learn more about phishing, doxxing, botnets, and more. By learning about their behaviors, you can ensure you’re not mimicking them.


Len Shneyder
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Len Shneyder is a 15-year email and digital messaging veteran and the VP of Industry Relations at SendGrid. Len serves as an evangelist and proponent of best practices and he drives thought leadership and data-driven insights on industry trends based on the massive volume of email SendGrid delivers on behalf of their customers. Len is a longtime member of M3AAWG (the Messaging, Malware, Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group) and serves on its board in addition to Co-Chairing the Program Committee. He’s also part of the MAC (Member Advisory Committee) of the EEC (Email Experience Council) where he serves as the organization's Vice Chair. The EEC is a professional trade organization focused on promoting email marketing best practices. The EEC is owned by the DMA (The Direct Marketing Association of America), a nearly 100-year-old organization where he also sits on the Ethics Committee. In addition, Len has worked closely with the ESPC (Email Sender & Provider Coalition) on issues surrounding data privacy and email deliverability.