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Published Monday 05 March 2012
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After one of the people who we host a website for had a virus infection in December 2011 which resulted in several thousand emails being sent via our main mail server, we have had problems sending emails to hotmail.com and hotmail.co.uk domain names. A few days ago the problem got a lot worse as hotmail completely blocked our mail server from sending any emails to hotmail recipients.

Contacting the Windows Live Hotmail Sender Support Team had a lot of problems as their submission form didn't work and kept coming up with an error message after spending a long time completing a very long form each time which was lost after each error on their server! Finally the form sent and after a few hours we had the following reply from "Bob" at Windows Live Hotmail Sender Support Team which looks very much like an automated email reply.


Hello Brian

My name is Bob and I work with the Windows Live Hotmail Sender Support Team. [more]

Your IP xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx was blocked by Windows Live Hotmail because the majority of all the email that you send has been judged to be spam by our internal filtering system.

While I cannot offer mitigation at this time, I can offer you some advice that may help your situation.

1.       Make sure that you have SPF/SIDF records in place. You can go to http://www.microsoft.com/senderid for more information on this.
2.       Monitor user complaints. Windows Live Hotmail also has a sender complaint feedback loop program called the Junk Email Reporting Program (JMRP). Enrollment in this free program will benefit you as a sender as it will keep your email lists updated and populated with interested Windows Live Hotmail customers. This program will help you to remove those Windows Live Hotmail customers who do not want to receive emails from your company. If you are interested in joining this program, please visit http://support.msn.com/eform.aspx?productKey=edfsjmrpp&page=support_home_options_form_byemail&ct=eformts
3.       Please visit http://www.senderbase.org, http://www.kloth.net/services/dnsbl.php or http://openrbl.org to verify that your IP is not being targeted by any third party block lists.
4.       Segment your mailing infrastructure by IP. Marketing email, transactional corporate email, "forward to a friend" email and signup emails should be sent from different IPs. This will help to identify what types of messages are being flagged by Windows Live Hotmail customers.
5.       Strengthen the sign up process. Confirm that you are using a double-opt-in sign up process. This will not help in removing existing Windows Live Hotmail customers from your email lists but it will confirm the authenticity of those who sign-up for your email campaigns and newsletters.
6.       If you have any feedback loops setup with other ISPs, you should look for trends to try and determine possible causes - a new data source? New advertisement? Maybe folks signing up do not recognize the mail?
7.       Clearly mark your emails so that Windows Live Hotmail customers are able to identify quickly and easily that they requested emails from your service.
8.       Do some analysis on the data regarding complaints - look at Windows Live Hotmail customers who have never clicked, opened, responded or bounced in any way. These poor performers could contain many bad addresses.
9.       Clean up your lists. Remove those who do not want to receive the emails. Make the unsubscribe process more visible.
10.   Enroll in the Sender Score program. This is the only white List that Windows Live Hotmail uses. It is owned and operated by Return Path. You can find information about this program at http://www.senderscorecertified.com

In addition to these recommendations, we offer these programs that will help to improve the reputation of your sending IP addresses:

·         Windows Live Hotmail has created the Smart Network Data Services program. This is a service that helps legitimate email senders work with their customers and partners to reduce spam originating from their IP. To register, please go to http://postmaster.msn.com/snds/ This program allows a sender to monitor the 'health' of their IPs.

While using the SNDS tool, enrollment in the JMRP or having your IPs registered with Sender ID will not allow emails from your mail servers to bypass our filters, these are in place to help legitimate companies deliver their emails to Windows Live Hotmail customers.

·         Apply for the Sender Score Certified Mail program:
If you are doing all the above and you continue to have deliverability issues, you may wish to consider joining the Sender Score Certified Mail Program, a third party program administered by Return Path, Inc. Many legitimate mailers and marketers have qualified and joined this program to improve mail deliverability and decrease email from being filtered to the Junk E-mail Folder. Sender Score (www.senderscorecertified.com) is the only service to which we subscribe

The troubleshooting steps in this email are recommendations only. Microsoft makes no guarantees that following these steps will guarantee deliverability to MSN, Windows Live Hotmail, or Live.com customers.

For more detailed information about best sending practices to Windows Live Hotmail users, please review the following white paper: http://download.microsoft.com/download/e/3/3/e3397e7c-17a6-497d-9693-78f80be272fb/enhance_deliver.pdf

Sincerely,

Bob
Windows Live Hotmail Sender Support


Despite our mail server having SPF/SIDF records in place and not being on any of the blacklists they recommend checking such as http://www.senderbase.org or http://www.kloth.net/services/dnsbl.php they are still blocking our server and there doesn’t seem to be any way to have it unblocked!.

In just one day we had over 40 calls and emails from the website owners whose sites we host asking why their emails are not going to their own customers at Hotmail and complaining that our mail server is faulty even though the block is not on our own servers!

A quick search on google for the first line of the automated reply found this interesting post with someone else who has the same problems with Hotmail blocking valid emails.

http://allmybase.com/2009/11/20/microsoft-tech-support-an-epic/

If anyone else has been able to get the block removed from Windows Live Hotmail please send me a message or add a comment below.

 

 


Update on the hotmail headache, had this email the following day after we asked for clarification on the emails which had been sent to hotmail:

 

Hello Brian,
Thank you for writing back.
I understand that you want some clarification about this issue however as much as I would like to give you some idea we cannot share the specific filter rule violation, details or reasons behind this filtering as this information is strictly confidential.
I certainly hope you'll understand our actions.
We recommend of enrolling your IP to our Junk Mail Reporting Partner Program (JMRP). With JMR Program your company will be able to clean up your mailing lists by removing the complaining Windows Live Hotmail customers.


This program is a long-term solution that we offer as recourse for senders who have been blocked because of Junk Mail Reporting (JMR) by Windows Live Hotmail customers. Enrollment in this program will benefit you as a sender as it will keep your email lists updated and populated with interested Windows Live Hotmail customers.

Participation in this program will help you to remove those Windows Live Hotmail customers who do not want to receive emails from your company. Please visit http://support.msn.com/eform.aspx?productKey=edfsjmrpp&page=support_home_options_form_byemail&ct=eformts

Once you have enrolled in the JMR Program, please provide us with the ticket number so we can assist you further.

Best regards,

xxxxxxxx
Windows Live Hotmail Sender Support

 


Update 11th March 2012

Following this, I emailed them back and asked how we are supposed to track down the offending emails if they cant tell us which emails got blocked! Had this in reply:

Hello Brian,

We do apologize if we are unable to provide any details about this situation since we are not a liberty to discuss the nature of the block. We also do not have any sample emails on our end as those emails are kept by the servers and we do not have access to them.

At this point, I would suggest that you clean up your mailing lists by removing the complaining Windows Live Hotmail customers. You may wish to look into our Junk Mail Reporting Partner Program (JMRP). 

This program is a long-term solution that we offer as recourse for senders who have been blocked because of Junk Mail Reporting (JMR) by Hotmail customers. Enrollment in this program will benefit you as a sender as it will keep your email lists updated and populated with interested Windows Live Hotmail Customers. Participation in this program will help you to remove those Windows Live Hotmail Customers who do not want to receive emails from your company. I hope that you will investigate joining this program. I believe that it will offer a valuable service to our mutual Hotmail customers. If you are interested in joining this program, please visit http://support.msn.com/eform.aspx?productKey=edfsjmrpp&page=support_home_options_form_byemail&ct=eformts
Please be aware that this is not a 'Safe list.' If your company's sending IP continues to exceed the allowable number of complaints, it could be blocked again. This program is not intended to be a solution for blocks initiated by our SmartScreen or Brightmail Spam filters.

Best regards,
xxxxx
Windows Live Hotmail Sender Support


We had previously applied for the Junk Mail Reporting (JMR) several years ago and didnt get anything back from Hotmail so we will try again and see if they can tell us which emails caused our servers to be blacklisted.

We also setup a new server today on a different IP range and after buying the licenses for the email server software we found this one was also blacklisted even though it had never sent emails in the past.

This leads us me to believe that the blacklist is much wider than our own servers and maybe affecting many more in the datacentre we use to host our web servers who say they havent had any reports of any problems.


Update July 2014

Some of the links on the above post may no longer work. There are a number of resources on http://wiht.link/sender-id, for the Sender ID system.

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