I made a discovery today that surprised even myself. Using the rescore
masscheck and weekly masscheck logs while working on Bug #6247 I found
some interesting details that throws a wrench into this lively debate.
It turns out that the ReturnPath and DNSWL whitelists have a
statistically insignificant impact on spamassassin's ability to
determine ham vs. spam. Meanwhile, both whitelists have high levels of
How can both of these statements be true? I suspect this is because the
scores are balanced by the rescoring algorithm to be "safe" in the
majority case where no whitelist rule has triggered. Thus whitelists
are not needed or relied upon to prevent false positive classification.
While whitelists are not directly effective (statistically, when
averaged across a large corpus), whitelists are powerful tools in
indirect ways including:
* Pushing the score beyond the auto-learn threshold for things like
Bayes to function without manual intervention.
* The albeit controversial method where some automated spam trap
blacklists use whitelists to help determine if they really should list
an IP address.
spamassassin-3.3.0 has reduced the score impact of these whitelists to
more modest levels, maxing out at -5 points. -5 is PLENTY for
spamassassin, as 5 points is the level which the scoreset is tuned.
Mail from a whitelisted host would need greater than 10 points to be
blocked, which is statistically very rare for ham. I believe that we
are striking the right balance with these modest whitelist scores in
That being said, whitelists should be constantly policed to maintain
their reputation and trust levels. For example, while I currently am
impressed by DNSWL's performance, I am not pleased that they seem to
lack automated trap-based enforcement. Relying only on manual reports
and manual intervention requires too much effort in the long-term for
any organization, be it company or volunteer run.