Spam and Open Relay Blocking System

"SORBS" redirects here. For other uses, see Sorbs (disambiguation).

SORBS (Spam and Open Relay Blocking System) is a list of e-mail servers suspected of sending or relaying spam (a DNS Blackhole List). It has been augmented with complementary lists that include various other classes of hosts, allowing for customized email rejection by its users.


The SORBS DNSbl project was created in November 2002. It was maintained as a private list until 6 January 2003 when the DNSbl was officially launched to the public. The list consisted of 78,000 proxy relays and rapidly grew to over 3,000,000 alleged compromised spam relays.[1]

In November 2009 SORBS was acquired by GFI Software, to enhance their mail filtering solutions.[2]

In July 2011 SORBS was re-sold to Proofpoint, Inc.[3]


SORBS adds IP ranges that belong to dialup modem pools, dynamically allocated wireless, and DSL connections as well as DHCP LAN ranges by using reverse DNS PTR records, WHOIS records, and sometimes by submission from the ISPs themselves. This is called the DUHL or Dynamic User and Host List.[4] SORBS does not automatically rescan DUHL listed hosts for updated rDNS so to remove an IP address from the DUHL the user or ISP has to request a delisting or rescan. If other blocks are scanned in the region of listings and the scan includes listed netspace, SORBS automatically removes the netspace marked as static.

Matthew Sullivan of SORBS proposed in an Internet Draft that generic reverse DNS addresses include purposing tokens such as static or dynamic, abbreviations thereof, and more.[5] That naming scheme would have allowed end users to classify IP addresses without the need to rely on third party lists, such as the SORBS DUHL. The Internet Draft has since expired. Generally it is considered more appropriate for ISPs to simply block outgoing traffic to port 25 if they wish to prevent users from sending email directly, rather than specifying it in the reverse DNS record for the IP.[6]

SORBS' dynamic IP list originally came from Dynablock but has been developed independently since Dynablock stopped updating in December 2003.[7]

Spam traps

IP addresses that send spam to SORBS spamtraps are added to their spam database automatically or manually. In order to prevent being blacklisted, major free email services such as Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail, as well as major ISPs now implement outgoing anti-spam countermeasures. Gmail, for example, continues to get listed and delisted [8][9] because they refuse abuse reports.[10] However, smaller networks may still be unwittingly blocked. Because spammers use viruses, malware, and rootkits to force compromised computers to send spam, SORBS lists the IP addresses of servers that the infected system uses to send its spam. Because of this, larger ISPs and corporate networks have started blocking port 25 in order to prevent these compromised computers from being able to send email except through designated email servers.[11]

Preemptive listings

SORBS maintains a list of networks and addresses that it believes are assigned dynamically to end users/machines, it refers to this list as the DUHL (Dynamic User/Host List).[12] The list includes wide networks of computers sharing the same IP address using network address translation which are also affected (If one computer behind the NAT is allowed to send spam, the whole network will be blacklisted if the NAT IP is ever blacklisted.) This is a common method of pre-emptive blocking as most legitimate mail servers are hosted in data centers designed and provisioned for such services, the legitimate mail servers that are affected by such listings are most commonly home hobbyists running their own mail servers. The Spamhaus Policy Block List (PBL) is another such pre-emptive list which does not just list dynamic hosts, but also blocks hosts it believes [13] should not be sending email directly to third-party servers. SORBS also operate another list which is similar to the Spamhaus PBL called the NoServers list, which is wholly maintained by the network administrators of the respective networks and is therefore theoretically False Positive free.

Escalated listings

SORBS has been accused of deliberately targeting innocent users through escalated listings. Its website describes the process as follows: "An escalated listing on the other hand is where a whole network of IP addresses is listed in SORBS and all hosts and IPs (whether assigned to a single customer or multiple) are listed and therefore blocked or result in spam folder issues. Why does SORBS create escalated listings? The simple answer is to stop spam. You ask, 'How does listing innocent IPs help stop spam?' Simple, some providers don’t care about spam."[14] There have been many heated discussions on this practice as often it would appear that email users who are caught in this trap have no recourse, because the listing applies to a block of IP addresses, and they are unable to release their own IP address.


Since the acquisition by Proofpoint, Inc. full-time support staff have been employed to answer delisting queries; however the first round of answers to support requests are answered automatically by robot systems.

Current Statistics

SORBS produces and publishes daily statistics about its list to the otherwise defunct usenet newsgroup (NANAB). As of the April 30, 2013 statistics published show the following listing totals:

Unique IPs in Proxy entries:   562007
Unique IPs in Relay entries:   647
Unique IPs in Spam entries:   17766841
Unique IPs in Hacked entries:   5319703
Unique IPs in DUHL entries:   358553087
Unique IPs in exDUHL entries:   540915
Unique IPs in Cable entries:   879711
Unique IPs in Zombie entries:   2579717
Unique IPs in AdminRequested entries:  1
Unique IPs in UnAllocated entries:  24817
Unique IPs in CoLo entries:   4135
Unique IPs in MailServer entries:  31
Unique IPs in Spammer entries:   1
Unique IPs in Escalated entries:  2817
Unique IPs in Phishing entries:   110373
Unique IPs in Virus entries:   31
Unique IPs in BackScatter entries:  31
Unique IPs in Business entries:   2722404
Unique IPs in Static entries:   10790747
Unique IPs in WhiteHat entries:   1
Unique IPs in NoServers entries:  14918751
Unique IPs in CoreNetwork entries:  7521
Unique IPs in InstantReport entries:  31
Unique IPs in EmailReport entries:  1
Unique IPs in Permission entries:  81
Unique IPs in Botnet entries:   381139
Total IPs listed in the database  415165541

Problem with shared SMTP servers

Some ISPs use a shared SMTP server to onsend their customers email. If any of those customers send emails which the system identifies as spam, then the legitimate traffic from all the other users that use that SMTP server is blocked by the system. As of May 2016, the system was flagging the Telstra Australia (Australia's largest internet service provider) SMTP servers as a spam source, thereby blocking legitimate emails from Telstra customers being delivered to any ISPs that use the SORBS system. It is highly likely that among Telstra's hundreds of thousands of customers, there are some virus infected computers acting as zombies and relying spam emails. The SORBS system is based on a faulty analysis of the spam problem, and for this reason it ends up blocking large quantities of legitimate emails.

See also


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