NASA JPL: When the Same Email is Both Solicited and Spam (Take #2)

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA JPL) sent me a solicited, much-desired, and eagerly read bulk email today. The organization also spammed a half dozen email addresses at domains that closed in 2005 and earlier. I don’t doubt that the original owners of those email addresses subscribed, probably sometime in the 1990s. Email addresses (unlike diamonds) are not forever. The ESP is IContact.

Last fall I blogged about a similar situation with a very different sender: the re-election campaign of President Obama, which sent the same email to one of my email addresses (I’d subscribed) and a spamtrap. Since then I’ve seen other senders do this repeatedly. The exact same email is sent both to email addresses whose owners requested it and email addresses whose current owners did not request it. The exact same email is both solicited and spam. The only difference is the recipient.

This situation is frustrating to those of us who work on spam filters, blocklists, whitelists, and other reputation services that people use to decide which email to accept and which to block. This type of email illustrates a fundamental weakness, not in specific spam filters or blocklists, but spam filtering and blocklisting as approaches to stopping or managing spam. Without a clairvoyant computer program, it is not possible to classify such emails without a significant margin of error.

Senders must do a better job of preventing dead email addresses, typoed email addresses, and deliberately forged email addresses from piling up on their email lists.

Sending IP:

Spam Sample:

Actual Headers:

Received: from ( [])
        by <xxx> (Postfix) with ESMTP id <xxx>
        for <xxx>; Thu,  5 Dec 2013 18:##:## -0600 (CST)
DKIM-Signature: <xxx>
Mime-Version: 1.0
From: "NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory" <>
To: <xxx>
Date: Thu, 05 Dec 2013 19:##:## -0500
Subject: NASA Finds Reducing Salt Is Bad for Glacial Health
Errors-To: bounces+<xxx>
List-Unsubscribe: <<xxx>>, <mailto:bounces+<xxx>>
X-List-Unsubscribe: <<xxx>>
X-Unsubscribe-Web: <<xxx>>
X-Feedback-ID: <xxx>:vocus
X-Return-Path-Hint: bounces+<xxx>
Content-Type: multipart/alternative; boundary="<xxx>"
Message-ID: <<xxx>>

Readable Email:

From: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory <>
To: <spamtrap>
Subject: NASA Finds Reducing Salt Is Bad for Glacial Health

NASA Finds Reducing Salt Is Bad for Glacial Health

A new NASA-led study has discovered an intriguing link between sea ice conditions and the melting rate of Totten Glacier, the glacier in East Antarctica that discharges the most ice into the ocean.


This message was sent to <xxx> from:

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory | 4800 Oak Grove Dr | Pasadena, CA 91109

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