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Progressive Internet Activists Win Battle with Symantec Brightmail Spam Software


UPDATE (8:05 p.m. ET): AfterDowningStreet.org Co-Founder and Democrats.com President Bob Fertik contacted a number of people this evening in the corporate communications office of Symantec, and they fixed the problem. Fertik issued this statement:

"I want to thank the Symantec Corporation for responding in real time upon being notified that their Bright Mail product was the source of the problem."
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UPDATE: (6:45 p.m. ET): The manager of Comcast's abuse department now claims that they have a contract with Bright Mail (part of Symantec)and that Bright Mail controls the filter and refuses to lift the blog (claiming to have received 46,000 spam messages with the ADS url in them; but refusing to show us a single such message). Bright Mail also serves OTHER large ISPs, not just Comcast.
___________________________

Any Emails you've sent in the past week that included "www.afterdowningstreet.org" did not reach a lot of people. And the problem is not fixed. You can work around this by leaving the initial www. off the address afterdowningstreet.org.

LINK TOARTICLE HERE OR READ MORE BELOW

COMCAST KILLS EMAIL FROM 'AFTERDOWNINGSTREET' COALITION!
Advocacy Group, Internet Host Charge 'Political Motivation' Behind Filtering of Email by Country's Largest Net Services Provider!
*** BRAD BLOG EXCLUSIVE ***

The BRAD BLOG has learned that cable company and Internet service provider, Comcast Corporation has been automatically deleting email sent to Comcast customers with the text "www.afterdowningstreet.org" in the body...

The BRAD BLOG has learned that cable company and Internet service provider, Comcast Corporation has been automatically deleting email sent to Comcast customers with the text "www.afterdowningstreet.org" in the body of the email.

AfterDowningStreet.org ("ADS") is the citizen's coalition advocacy group organized to raise awareness of the leaked British memos and minutes referred to as the "Downing Street Documents". Those documents, first reported by Michael Smith of the Sunday Times suggest that the Bush Administration had determined to topple Saddam Hussein by military means and planned to "fix" the facts and intelligence around the policy" at least eight months prior to receiving authorization of the U.S. Congress to wage war in Iraq. At the same time, George W. Bush and administration officials were routinely telling both Congress and the American people that no tactical decisions had yet been made regarding regime change in Iraq.

(DISCLOSURE: The BRAD BLOG and an advocacy group co-founded by us, VelvetRevolution.us are members of the ADS coalition.)

The discovery that email was being secretly filtered was made after an investigation conducted by ADS co-founder, David Swanson who reported that many coalition members did not seem to be receiving email alerts and others messages being sent by the group.

"Over the past week we have been having problems reaching our members," Swanson said. "Yesterday we had a conference call scheduled that we'd announced by email and two thirds of the people didn't even know about it."

Eventually Swanson was able to determine that it was only those members of the group who receive email via the cable monolith's Comcast.net domain who were not receiving such notices.

According to a study released in January of this year by TNS Telecoms, Comcast Corporation is the nation's largest single provider of both Cable/Satellite and Internet related services in the country.

The BRAD BLOG has been able to independently confirm that email sent to two different Comcast customers with the text "www.afterdowningstreet.org" in the body of the mail, is not currently reaching those customers as expected. Though messages with only "afterdowningstreet.org" are, in fact, able to get through to those same customers without a problem.

In a statement released by People-Link.org, the Internet host for the AfterDowningStreet.org domain, the directors of the "progressive" firm charge that the filtering is politically motivated and both they and Swanson have requested people contact Comcast to complain. (Contact information at the bottom of this article.)...

While it is not uncommon for Internet Service Providers, or ISP's, to filter out messages sent to their users by domains which are known to send large amounts of unrequested junkmail, or "spam", Comcast acknowledged to Swanson that AfterDowningStreet.org was not on their list of domains alleged to have sent such email.

Swanson spoke with two different employees in the Comcast Email Abuse department, both of whom acknowleged to him that "www.afterdowningstreet.org" seems to have ended up in the Comcast email filter. He was able to receive no explanation from Comcast as to why or how that could have occurred.

When The BRAD BLOG attempted to get a statement on the matter from the Comcast Abuse Department Manager, Jim Janco, -- whom Swanson had previously dealt with in the matter -- we were told that "company policy" dictated he "can't engage with the press in any manner," but that he would ask the Comcast PR Department to get back to us.

We received a call shortly afterwards from Jeanne Russo, corporate spokesperson from the Comcast Online Division, who told us she was not aware of the problem, but would get back to us after she was able to look into it. That was several hours ago. As of this time, we have not yet heard back from her.

In a series of emails, however, shared with The BRAD BLOG between Swanson and another employee from the Comcast Abuse Department, the employee confirms the existence of the problem.

Swanson had sent emails to two different email addresses of the employee, one of which was a comcast.net address, the other at a different service provider. Until Swanson removed the "www.afterdowningstreet.org" from the body of the mail he was sending as a test to the employee, his email was not received by the Comcast employee at their Comcast.net address. The test email messages were received without a problem at the two Comcast customers alternate non-Comcast addresses.

Swanson had previously used "www.afterdowningstreet.org" as part of his automatic email signature.

Another ADS coalition member, Tim Carpenter, explained how the problem began and that he was personally unable to receive any information on the problem from Comcast.

"I called Comcast and they never confirmed for me that there was a problem with my email," Carpenter told us, "but starting Friday, about two hours after the bombings [in London], my email started disappearing. It became clearer and clearer as the week when on that something was going on."

Swanson says that he was told by Comcast's Janco earlier this afternoon that Janco had identified the problem and that Comcast would be attempting to correct it over the next several hours. However, several other Comcast users have since confirmed that they have still be unable to receive test messages sent by both Swanson and The BRAD BLOG as of this hour.

Swanson says he was told that "there were spam complaints and that content filters automatically blocked the content of our URL, but that [Comcast] looked into it and know that we don't spam."

When he asked why Comcast hadn't looked into the matter before adding ADS to their spam filter, Swanson says he was told "Because it's automatic."

When he asked why ADS was not informed about the matter when it occured, the answer was the same, "Because it's automatic," said Swanson.

Alfredo Lopez, a director of People-Link.org, the Internet Service Provider which hosts the AfterDowningStreet.org domain and website, was able to confirm that Swanson's email left the People-Link mail servers correctly but did not reach their Comcast destinations.

"We do know that all of the email about which [Swanson's] talking was mailed out from the server, and we do know that people on Comcast were not receiving it. That much we know," said Lopez.

He said that People-Link, who identify themselves as "part of the progressive Internet movement" received no notice from Comcast about the apparent filtering.

"That is typical of a very serious spam block," Lopez said today, "because they don't want to tip off the spammer that they've been blocked."

A statement given to The BRAD BLOG by People-Link's directors suggests that there is a political motivation behind this matter. Their statement charges that Comcast is blocking "constitutionally protected expression and the fundamental right to organize and act politically on issues of concern."

Their statement goes on to say that:

Most spam blocking measures focus on the email address or the IP address of the suspected spammer. While there are anti-spam measures directed at the body of the email, these usually target attachments that could contain virus programs.

Targeting the inclusion of a website url can only have one outcome: that communications about that website and the issue it is presenting will be blocked from large numbers of people and that the communications from that site's administrators and the campaign's organizers will not reach their full constituency.

Whether comcast's intention or not, this is effectively political and unconstitutional.

The complete statement of People-Link's directors follows...

Statement from the Directors of May First/People Link

The Internet provider Comcast has repotedly admitted blocking email to its users that contains the www.afterdowningstreet.org in the email body.

This goes far beyond the normal anti-spam measures taken by major providers and represents an effective blocking of constitutionally protected expression and the fundamental right to organize and act politically on issues of concern.

Most spam blocking measures focus on the email address or the IP address of the suspected spammer. While there are anti-spam measures directed at the body of the email, these usually target attachments that could contain virus programs.

Targeting the inclusion of a website url can only have one outcome: that communications about that website and the issue it is presenting will be blocked from large numbers of people and that the communications from that site's administrators and the campaign's
organizers will not reach their full constituency.

Whether Comcast's intention or not, this is effectively political and unconstitutional.

It keeps people from getting valuable information about a campaign that is, in the opinion of many, critical to the future of this country's political system.

It disrupts the organizing of this campaign and cripples the campaign's ability to use its most effective communications tool: the Internet.

It damages people's confidence in this campaign since many people who write the campaign can't receive the response they expect and that the campaign has sent.

Perhaps the worst part of this development is that Comcast has been reportedly doing this without the knowledge of the managers of this website or anyone affiliated with this campaign. In fact, no Comcast customer has received any indication that email to him or her containing this url was blocked.

Many of us in the progressive Internet movement have long been warning about the intrusive, arrogant, disruptive, inconsiderate and effectively reactionary "access blocking" measures being taken by large Internet service providers. They take many forms and we have argued that, in the end, they lead to the same future: providers blocking access because of its content.

That future, apparently, has arrived and it is essential that everyone interested in free speech and a free Internet call or email Comcast to let it know how we feel and to warn it not to do this again.

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??

It means that, if you get internet through comcast, you won't be getting email from ADS. Time to complain-loudly.

WHY is Comcast doing this to fallen soldiers PARENTS? What kind of crud owns Comcast?

Mega Corporatist Crud!

Don't Forget to Complain to the FCC and their House Oversight
Committee.

I think this would constitute "documented" evidence of "slanting."

First they try to take over Disney (an American icon),and now they try to censor Americans concerned about this country,Comcast really sucks,Im glad I have TimeWarner.

Is this legal? Can they decide whom you get email from if you choose to get it?

Can't somebody sue their asses?

If they love Turd Blossom so much, they can pay for his room and board in prison... if COMCRAP has any funds left after the Americans BOYCOTT their censoring asses. Are UK customers?... if so, let's tell London Times and BBC that something smells rotten at COMCRAP

Subject line: America Boycotts COMCRAP

Do I smell censorship here?

Do I detect a major conglomerate attempting to seclude the internet from thoughts which are not congruous with the monied interests in the United States?

Freedom of expression, etc. are apparently only for those who agree with the Bush administration.

People of good will, unite and restore America to its true world leadership status.

I have been glued to this website since I first heard about it on DEMOCRACY NOW!; I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of sentiment and content that can be either read or accessed from this site.

I am certain that the demonstrable stratospheric hubris and criminality of the 'Sunshine Boys'(re: The Daily Show)- made plain as day from the cumulative effort of documentarians, bloggers, journalists, dissident intellectuals.......

Anyway, the point is that whatever is decent in humanity lives and breathes in this site - it is unmistakable - they are so desperate to stop you that they will continue to do anything.

Although their resistance must be infuriating, isn't also very, very revealing?

The silly-glue / crazy-glue is starting to disintegrate, I bet ya Kissinger to the present are pittin their shants.

"One world, one law." (Trials of Henry Kissinger)

Thank you America.

COMCRUD will have no more business from our family and friends. We will email EVERYONE we know... BLOGGERS know millions of people out in the REAL WORLD... we can talk as well as type!!!

Comcast- do you censor email with pornography in it?

Maybe the same people who hacked this site and Raw Story also did some spamming with the ADS domain, thus getting it kicked of ComCast.
Possible?

d'oh, just read the whole article. wonder what's going on?

Can someone please go over this one again? David, will you please write an article about this and get this one out so we all can understand it.... This was not an arbitrary blocking... 46,000 e mails? Your mailing list can't be that big.... Please someone explain how this happenned and what was the motivation behind it? I'm just boggled....
GR

8:05pm update means...?

they fixed the problem.

Not bad timing... SQUEAKING RULES!

This shows that we have some clout. Try getting comcast to come to your house on time.

A week late Jim Carey shows up?

anyone here that uses comcast should dump them as soon as possible... remember they turned over all the names of file sharers and verizon didn't. i'm not advocating verizon but at least they didn't sell out their customers. kinda makes it easier to understand knowing that huh? comcast=bad. luckily i have two cable companies in my area. i use millennium digital media. not as feature rich and fast but not big brother either. they don't even make you accept a cookie to read your webmail.

It's of extraordinary importance to find an ISP which protects the inalienable right to freely violate copyright laws without taking even the barest and least expensive of precautions, and who don't require cookies to make use of optional features.

Apparently, it's of considerably lesser importance to use proper capitalization when typing. Look, not all liberals are highly educated elitist do-gooders. :)

Ok, you have clarified that you think you are brighter than the average light bulb on the Christmas tree. We feel your superior pain... 'nuff said.

The all important mail on enlarging my non existant penis is still getting through though.

get your sperm spam at Comcast...

This really isn't that big of a deal, and the cries of censorship smack of paranoia.

I work for a small internet service provider that specializes in email services. Blocking email based on URLs included within the body of a message is a widely-used, well-respected, and highly effective anti-spam tool. Spammers are constantly spoofing their subject lines and sending addresses, so filtering on URLs in the message body is one of the most reliable methods of heuristically identifying spam.

If ADS's server had a properly set PTR record, and if ADS had a SPF record, it's quite possible that their URL wouldn't have been associated with bulk email.

My ISP (not my employer, but my ISP at home) uses a company called Postini for email filtering; they routinely flag email from my House Rep and Senator (both Democrats), from moveon.org, from Rep. Slaughter's website, from John Conyers' website, and others as spam. Do the also keep virtually all of the real spam out of my inbox? Yes, as a matter of fact, they do.

The point being, as much as Comcast and Symantec suck, seeing conspiracies around every bend is just stupid. Too, while it's important to support liberal businesses, having a hosting provider who actually knows what they're doing (PTR record, SPF record) is worth more than whatever discount you get from the current folks...

gets the job done FAST.

Look how fast the liberal blogosphere jumped to conclusions and rallied the masses to call, fax, and email their outrage to big business over a perceived injustice. Look how whatever tech geeks should be responsible for stuff like this for ADS and their service provider didn't do their jobs... like so many things in life, this sort of thing (the email blocking) happens literally all the time, and can usually be sorted out in under an hour with three phone calls or less, if you know what you're doing.

But, yeah, Yay bloggers! indeed.

and got the job done...no more Comcast "mistake"... scary , huh?

You come from the school of "TEflon at the Top, S**t rolls downhill."

Nemo, your time here is in-efficient & unproductive>>>you are deleted

Trying to ground the radical fringe of the supposedly reality-based community in, of all things, reality, is inefficient and unproductive?

You know, one of the supposedly great things about the Democratic Party is that it encompasses a broad range of ideology, from radically to moderately liberal. It's supposed to be the party of free thought, of new, differing ideas. Try to keep that in mind when you egotistically dismiss those who aren't in perfect lockstep to your personal views.

This whole thing was a technical problem. Big businesses have technical problems all the time; it's not exactly noteworthy. When *I* am talking with a friend on the phone about politics or religion or anything at all, really, and we get disconnected, I simply assume from years of experience that Qwest is a crappy monopoly of a telecom company; I don't assume that there's a vast right-wing corporate conspiracy to stifly my speech. But you, and nearly everyone here, and at DKos, and elsewhere, immediately jumped to the conclusion that ADS was being censored.

So, if I seem exasperated, or elitist, it's because I'm embarassed by how quick everyone was to see a conspiracy here, and how few were (and are still) willing to even entertain the possibility of a technical problem. Maybe not as embarassed as I am by prisonplanet.com or Xymphora, but embarassed none-the-less.

So, you know, when Rush and all the Freepers are attacking ADS, making jokes about tinfoil hats and all the other stupid stuff they do, pat yourself on the back for handing them more ammunition. Truly a job well done.

You attack others, yet you can't take the heat ... you are a typical
bully Nemo. You probably are very young and have not lived on this earth very long, so I can forgive youthful ignorance, however the arrogance is harder to swallow. But if you are old enough to know better, shame on you for your shallowness. If you are still totally unaware of major conspiracies after living through the sixties and seventies, then you are narcisisstic and care nothing about others.

No matter what your age, you dismiss others concerns as "not exactly noteworthy" , like that is the end of the discussion. Very well then, let's end your discussion. Fare thee well.

BUSHCO

BUSHCO

Good write-up. Most things aren't conspiracies, but people are oh so eager to think they are.

mercury-causing autism =coverup
illegal Iraqui war= coverup
Rove= messup

Nemo, the resultant interference with ADS business is a big deal -- regardless of WHY it happened. Harm doesn't have to be intentional to have real, costly, adverse effects. Businesses get sued all the time for unintended harm that they cause to third parties.

July 23 is coming up fast. Important communications have been blocked. A lot of time has been wasted over this -- under the bridge -- gone.

Thank goodness Symantec finally got on the problem and fixed it. I'm sure their insurers are relieved.

Lawyer, right?

or is Congress our lawyer? I think we should be able to do a class action lawsuit against Bush and Company, while Congress impeaches them.

Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Comcast is one ISP among many; Brightmail is one spam-filter among many. AOL handles far more email for far more people, and uses far more arbitrary and unfriendly restrictions and filters. GoDaddy's mailservers handle email for hundreds of thousands of people at several thousand domains, and they use an in-house, proprietary, arbitrary blacklist, system-wide; users of their servers may never receive up to a third of their legitimate non-spam email, and there's nothing - no settings to be changed, no "spam folder" to be checked - the end-user can do about it. Hotmail considers a lack of an SPF record sufficient grounds to consider email from a domain spam.

I could go on, but I won't.

The issue isn't that ADS couldn't send email to a bunch of people; similar email problems crop up literally every day. If the issue were technical, people would be bandying around things like "PTR records", ESMTP, and DNSBL, but they're not. It's been all outrage, all conspiracy, all injustice, all the time. "Oh woe is is, we can't send emails to one ISP among thousands", and "we're being censored".

Threatening legal action, by the way, is not only silly and childish, but ignorant. Comcast, Brightmail, Symantec, and every other ISP and service provider in the country are under absolutely NO OBLIGATION whatsoever to accept email from ADS, or anyone else, for that matter. They can do what they like with the incoming mail on their servers, and the only recourse you, I, and everyone else has, is to not use them.

So, now that we've wasted our evenings trying to politicize and engender outrage over an un-event, can we all please get back to trying to topple The Great Deceiver and his administration? :)

Nemo, come on. No obigation to deliver mail? Just what has the ISP contracted to do, then?

Lawyers could make hay of this. Whether or not it is worth pursuing is something for the ADS legal people to decide -- not you or me. And it may not be worth it.

However, the primary business of ADS, as you correctly point out, is quite different from this tussle.

That being said, I think Symantec's willingness to mitigate the damage in "real time" tells us a different story than the one you paint.

There is no legal obligation anywhere for any ISP or company to accept email from anyone. This has come up in several lawsuits involving DNSBLs, most notably the circa 2001 lawsuit involving Experian/Exactis.

If an ISP decides that they don't want to handle incoming mail that, for instance, includes the word "viagra", you, I, and Pfizer have absolutely no legal recourse. It's been hashed out in courts in the past, and the precedent is clear.

All cartooneys are going to do is harm ADS's image.

Symantec's eager willingness to fix the problem "real time" shows they probably view the "legal obligation" issue differently than you do. They were mitigating damages in a responsible fashion. Whether or not this was enough after the fact -- that's up to the ADS folks to figure out.

The idea that a vendor has no "legal obligations" to a subscriber is, on its face, absolutely ludicrous. That they would have no "legal obligations" to a third party whose business had been interupted by an unintended aspect of their service is also ridiculous. You can bet that companies like Symantec and Comcast have lots of insurance to cover such possibilities. Why? Because it is a prudent business decision to cover themselves against these things.

This isn't about spam, a la viagra.

Comcast's reputation has taken hit over this -- not ADS's. I wonder how many people canceled service because of this problem?

That post was written like your name could be Rove!

Then explain to me why they can't filter out all these porn sites. And all this crap that comes from overseas trying to sell me vitamins or erectile function pills. Esp since I am a female.

I'm still into the 3rd party paranoia.

Assuming that Bright Mail actually received 46,000 spam messages with the ADS url in them, it seems possible to me that spammers could have intentionally pulled this off by sending out tens of thousands of spam e-mails with AfterDowningStreet.org in the body of the text. If the right-wing (or anyone for that matter) wanted to attack a specific web site, wouldn't this be a feasible way of doing it?

It's known as a joe-job, and it's one of the things that SPF records were specifically created to protect against.

When Comcast says there were 46,000 spam messages with the ADS URL in them, what they're really saying is that 46,000 messages with the ADS URL in them were for various reasons identified as spam.

For some reason their software decided that the ADS URL was indicative of spam, but that's just the effect. The cause could be as simple as ADS's missing PTR and SPF records, or their messed-up DNS in general, or their server's IP netblock being blacklisted due to actions on the part of an unrelated third party. Unless they produce a couple sample emails, with headers, for examination, we'll probably never know the reasoning.

interesting stuff, thanks

I agree that this issue is important but lets focus on the big picture getting rid of Bush and Co and then we can go after big business. I can understand paranoia look how BushCo used it to get 50 gazillion votes in 2004. So let's stick together and use this site and others like http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ to keep up the pressure on the MSM and Congress. After all the Internet may well be the vehicle that ultimately leads to the downfall of BushCo.

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