Occasionally you may received a bounced message in your inbox from “Postmaster” or “Mailer-Daemon.”  When you look at the message, you discover that it contains what appears to be spam.  You realize that you didn’t send the message.  Why is it bouncing back to you?  How did your e-mail address get associated with spam?

This problem is due to forged headers.  The Internet protocol for sending e-mail (SMTP) has no real authentication process built into it.  As a result, any person can take most any e-mail client and set it up so that the From: address is anything they want it to be.

For instance, you might get an e-mail in your inbox that looks like this:

Subject:   How can I give you my money?
From:      Bill Gates <bill@microsoft.com>
Date:       June 9, 2005
To:          youraddress@wingnet.net

Before you get all excited, you need to take a reality check and realize that Bill probably isn’t going to give you any money any time soon.  What has happened is that a spammer has forged the e-mail address to make it appear to come from Bill.

The unfortunate truth is that a spammer can also do this with your e-mail address.  Is this wrong?  Yes.  Are there laws against it?  Yes, at least in the US and some other countries.  However, until enforcement of the laws exceeds current standards, spammers will continue to forge headers.

Is there anything you can do to prevent having your e-mail address used?  Not a lot.  Keeping your e-mail address private is helpful, but spammers will often randomly generate a forged From: address.  So the first spam might appear to come from bob@somedomain.com and the next from bob1@somedomain.com, and so on.  Somewhere in the mix, your e-mail address gets picked and inserted as the From: address.

The best course is to delete the bounced messages from your inbox and move on with life.  If it gets really bad on a consistent basis, you could change your e-mail address or consider using WingNET’s Zero Spam Tolerance service to keep the unnecessary bounces (as well as much other spam) out of your inbox.