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Bystanders caught in spam cross fire

AOL Time Warner's Road Runner cable-modem service implements a new policy to block suspected spammers. But the campaign is running over some innocent victims along the way.

AOL Time Warner's Road Runner cable-modem service has implemented a new policy to block suspected spammers and purveyors of malicious e-mail code. But the campaign has run over some innocent victims along the way.

Road Runner's new policy calls for the blocking of any incoming e-mails that contain contradictory domain-name routing information. That means Road Runner will block e-mails originating from people who have their own e-mail servers on top of an outside Internet service such as those offered by Verizon Communications, SBC Communications or Comcast.

The move is an attempt to thwart one technique used by spammers, who piggyback their own mail servers on top of a commercial broadband service such as Comcast or Verizon to more efficiently send out e-mail in bulk. The problem is that many legitimate small businesses also run their own mail servers on broadband connections, and are sometimes caught in the cross fire.

Road Runner's tactics underscore the efforts among Internet service providers (ISPs) to slow the tide of spam and malicious software code from flooding their systems and their subscribers' in-boxes. Spam has become public enemy No. 1 for ISPs, and many of the biggest ones, including Road Runner's dial-up cousin America Online, have implemented new ways to block suspected spammers.

Earlier in the year, AOL implemented similar blocking tactics against Road Runner and Comcast subscribers suspected of running their own mail servers.

AOL also requires outside ISPs to register their servers to permit communication with their members. Sometimes ISPs that install new servers are slow to register, causing AOL to inadvertently block their e-mails.

Mike Buday, an information technology manager with Encino, Calif.-based computer consulting company BizTech Visions, has become all too familiar with the e-mail block. When Buday arrived at work Monday, he noticed that streams of e-mails destined for Road Runner addresses had been bounced back into his mail server queues.

"We were basically blocked as a spammer," Buday said, insisting that his company is not involved in spamming.

Although the blocking policy hasn't hurt BizTech Visions' business, it remains a hassle to fix. Companies such as Buday's can correct the problem by paying their ISP an extra fee to reconfigure domain name setups so that they're consistent and don't trigger the block.

"I doubt we lost any business at all, but it's just a great deal of time consumption," Buday said.

A Road Runner representative confirmed that Road Runner has implemented this particular blocking technique. The representative did not return calls seeking additional comment.