Why off-server email forwarding is bad

Thursday, May 27th, 2021 - General

Let’s start out by addressing one fact – The Internet is ever evolving – is this a fact that we can all get behind?

To put in a different perspective, is the Internet you see, access, and interact with today the same Internet you saw, accessed, and interacted with back in 1995?

For me, the answer is a clear No. In 1995 we didn’t fiber Internet connections. We didn’t have dynamic and interactive websites. We didn’t have streaming TV platforms. We didn’t have Facebook and Twitter and other social media platforms. We didn’t have smartphones and Internet and communication in our pockets, always connected. The Internet has changed.

Despite all of this – Email has remained largely the same. It is still a very popular communication method, although instant messaging and text messaging have carved a niche in easy and simple communication purposes.

While the Email protocol hasn’t really changed – the abuse to email has. SPAM is rampant with email – I think we can all agree on this – and there’s no end in sight. As a result of this, a lot of the major email providers Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Verizon, etc have really clamped down on their anti-spam and anti-malware methods. It’s becoming harder and harder to get legitimate mail through due to these measures.

This has a direct correlation to email forwarding. In the ’90s and early 2000s forwarding mail may have been common place. But as more and more SPAM reached these major email providers, the notion of forwarding mail off of the server became more and more problematic.

Forwarding Diagram

When you forward mail off of the server – when it reaches it’s final destination, that provider (typically Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Verizon, etc) sees the message as being sent from our server. If it turns out that that message is a SPAM message guess what server gets deemed as the source of that SPAM? Our server. And when your server gets flagged as a SPAM source, nobody gets any messages from our server with these email service providers.

In this scenario our server becomes a “man-in-the-middle” Instead of the message going directly to the intended recipient it routes through our server first. This additional step also creates additional problem points. The simpliest path is usually the best path. Sending a message directly to the intended recipient is the best way to insure deliverability.

This is why forwarding mail off of the server is a very, very bad idea. In fact, that’s why we have an advisory posted in your control panel about such actions.

Forwarding Notice

Over the past several months and years we have seen a huge increase in the amount of problems our users and servers have had in sending mail to a lot of these major email service providers. We do not believe these issues to be tied to direct SPAM or abuse on our servers (these issues usually show themselves with being tied to popular public blacklists and our servers remain clean on these). Instead we believe the issue is related directly to users forwarding mail off of the server to these various major email service providers. SPAM being sent to these forwarding email addresses is resulting our servers being blocked and blacklisted by these major email service providers.

What is the solution?

The best solution is to setup all of your @yourdomain.com email addresses as real email accounts and check them directly or via webmail. Alternatively, some major email providers provide an option to download messages via POP3 into their service. I know Gmail has such a feature – in your Gmail account go to Settings -> Accounts and Filters -> Check mail from other accounts. Other service providers may offer this, you would just have to check with them. If you’re only concerned with checking your Gmail or other major email service provider then this may be an option for you.

One of the common refrains regarding this is – “But, I’ve always forwarded mail like this and it’s worked” – but again, this goes back to what we first talked about at the opening of this post – The Internet is ever evolving and changing. Just because some activity used to work, doesn’t mean it will continue to work that way forever. A blocky, scrolling text marquee based website that was appealing in the 1990s isn’t going to be appealing to the generation visiting that website today.

The bottom line is – forwarding mail off of the server really needs to stop. It just doesn’t work in the Internet of the 2020s. You can apply different band-aids to try and get around it and temporarily fix it, but it still doesn’t change that it’s a horrible idea.