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Virus auto-responders

Some material is very old and may be incorrect today

© August 2003 Tony Lawrence

This Ars Technica article asks if virus responders should be shut off. That's the feature of most virus scanners that shoots a warning back to the person who sent the message, telling them that they have a virus.

The problem nowadays is that most virus emails are spoofed: the mail didn't really come from the person that appears to have sent it. So all the automatic response does is flood the mailbox of an innocent person with complaints.

However, I know of one company that said that there volume of virus mail decreased after they started notifying the senders, so there was value for them. Unfortunately, that value didn't last, because some of their email addresses were later used in spoofed mail, and they were inundated with responses from other scanners.

One suggestion is to make the responses smarter by distinguishing between types of virus mail, but that's very difficult to do.

Leaving these responses on or shutting them off is a tough choice, but unfortunately it's not always a choice you can make at all: some scanners don't have any user configurable way to stop sending responses. That's fine if you WANT to keep sending them, but not if you don't.

Personally, I'm on the receiving end of many dozens of these a day. It would be easy enough to filter them out, but I also do an email mailing list that can cause similar replies when addresses no longer exist. I have to write the filters very carefully to avoid dropping that kind of automatic reply.

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-> Virus auto-responders

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