Spam and the evil catch-all/default email address

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Spam is a royal pain. Dealing with it incorrectly can take a huge chunk out of a server’s resources. Setting your catch-all or Default Address and effective use of Forwarders can reduce the amount of spam you receive by half, or more – and helps reduce server loads, helping everyone!

WHM/Cpanel has a number of settings, some of which are exposed to administrators via WHM, and some of which are exposed to customers via Cpanel. I’m just going to run through the settings for Cpanel as this will help our customers, and help us too hopefully.

Loggin into your Cpanel manager means going to http://cpanel.yourdomain or http://cpanel.santmedia.co.uk and typing in your hosting account name and password where requested.

The problem with using catchall addresses

Lets say you are the typical user, who only has one or two mailboxes – lets call them steve@domain.co.uk and pat@domain.co.uk. It’s not uncommon for people to get your address wrong, and type steven@domain.co.uk or stephen@domain.co.uk or patricia@domain.co.uk or patrick@domain.co.uk – you get the idea.

You might think this is easy to fix – just configure one of your mailboxes as a catchall, or default address. That is to say, any incoming email that is not directly addressed to a known reciepient (in our case, steve@ or pat@) will then get dumped in the catchall mailbox. This is BAD, TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE because the catchall mailbox will quickly fill up with all manner of spam, often sent to addresses like iloveviagra@domain.co.uk! What makes this worse, is that we have to filter all of this garbage for spam and virus content which can seriously load our servers unnecessarily.

The solution

Use forwarding to accurately capture similar email addresses.

By setting up an Email Account Forwarder using the Forwarders icon in the Mail area of Cpanel, we can simply set the system to forward any mail for

  • stephen@domain.co.uk -> steve@domain.co.uk
  • steven@domain.co.uk -> steve@domain.co.uk
  • patricia@domain.co.uk -> pat@domain.co.uk
  • patrick@domain.co.uk -> pat@domain.co.uk

Then, in the Mail area of Cpanel, click on the Default Address icon, and set the option to Discard with error to sender (at SMTP time). Leave the Failure Message as the default if possible, as it makes our life a little easier! Please leave the Advanced options alone as these would normally have no purpose for you unless instructed by your website developer.

That’s it!

Now, any email sent to silly addresses like fliberty@domain.co.uk will simply be rejected by our server, and only the addresses you have configured as Mailboxes or Forwarders will be accepted and processed. This simple technique will usually cut the amount of spam being received by at least 50%.

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