Out-of-Office Auto-Replies Considered Harmful?

Time for some light relief. This BBC News report graphically illustrates the “hilarious consequences” that can arise from misuse of an Out-of-Office auto-reply feature. (As they say in that part of the world, sy a ‘n ddigrif chwedl.)

But seriously, there is a point to this bulletin. Beware of automatically replying to spam.

As we know, spammers usually forge the From headers of their email. Often, the email addresses used are those of real people. If you auto-reply to spam, your missive will often go to these innocent third parties. They aren’t likely to be pleased to know that you’re on vacation on a sun-kissed isle.

Furthermore, the email address might be of a spamtrap — these are fake email addresses run by spam researchers to grab samples of new spam content and spot new spam senders. If you auto-reply to a spamtrap, you run the very real risk of having all your organization’s outgoing email blocked as if it were spam. Not very helpful.

Of course, if you absolutely must use auto-replies, the answer is to make sure you have an effective spam filter in front of your auto-reply generator. Make sure it’s not the sort of filter that just tags spam, but that deletes or quarantines it. If possible, set up the auto-replier to only reply to email from within your organization.

Richi Jennings (ag ddiolch at Alan Brown)

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