For business users who want to send and receive email with the simplicity that comes with Windows Live (formerly Hotmail) and GMail, but without the dreary advertising, Office 365’s Outlook Web Access (OWA) comes with simplicity, no ads, and the same tools available to the corporate world that makes OWA a serious alternative to Outlook for Desktop.
Mentioning Outlook stirs memories of an awkward email client that is too complicated to use and impossible to back up. Nor is there a shortage of clients who have worn out two buttons in Outlook – check mail, and send: Many users are only interested in email; calendars, tasks, contacts, etc. are just bloat. If any of this sounds familiar to you, you are not in the alone, and something that many people have hoped for which provides an advertising-free webmail service for commercial use is available to Office 365 users – Outlook Web Access, or OWA.
OWA is the portal for Microsoft’s Office 365. OWA is a web version of Outlook for Desktop which provides to Exchange Email, a service providing 50 GB of email per user account which can be synced across 5 devices – including sent items, which you will never see with POP accounts. Calendars, contacts, and more are all there too, albeit ring-fenced from email. although they are bound to be there. OWA is Microsoft Exchange. Importantly, whereas Google users expose their email to data mining, Exchange email is a secure content system that restricts access to “your eyes only”. Among other reasons, this privacy feature is why Exchange email is used almost overwhelmingly in commerce.
Perhaps the niftiest trick in Microsoft’s web based email client is the facility to run their email in “offline” mode.
Wait a minute. Read that one more time. Offline? Managing email with your web browser – offline? Did Hotmail ever do that? No. Nobody else did, either. That is why everybody needed Outlook for Desktop, or Outlook Express, or Eudora or Thunderbird. In case you still do not believe the proposition, the illustration above shows how offline mode is not more than two clicks away.
Offline email management is a trump card. Do not expect to see an entire mailbox in offline mode, more like a few day’s worth of traffic, but enough to keep you with something to do on the road. It is one feature of many “gimme’s” Microsoft deploys from time to time to keep the corporate world so attached to Exchange.
The great thing about OWA is that if you only want to run email, the browser interface does just that, and beautifully so on iPads. OWA connects directly to Exchange 2013, though, so all the tools that high end users need like shared address books, distribution groups, rules, instant messaging, administrator tools like mail policies and even in-line archiving, are there if you want them too.
You might be disappointed that this does not mean the end of Outlook for desktops. Outlook still has a place, and if anything has upped the ante as a portal not only for email, but for user access to Office 365 to document folders and Sharepoint mind boggling services ..but that is for another few articles.
For a thirty trial of Microsoft Exchange and OWA, contact Steve Galloway on 07834 461 266 or Fred Dreiling on 07919 340 570. No credit card required for trial services.
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IP blacklisting happens when an email sent to a recipient is returned with an error message that includes the terse statement:
error 550: Message rejected due to sender IP reputation ([xx.xx.xx.xx])
A “Blacklist”, more properly called a “DNS-based Blackhole List”, is a real-time database that uses criteria to determine if an IP address is sending email that could be considered spam. There are over a hundred influential public blacklists including Spamhaus, Barracuda Reputation Block List, and SpamCop. They all have their own criteria for accepting inbound mail and all can seriously impair email delivery.
Perversely, blacklisting happens when an important email addressed to an important customer or supplier is returned and, worse, all subsequent messages are returned, followed by a contagion that spreads to effective paralysis.
Initially, users call their email supplier for help. However, the supplier has limited options. For instance, email was being despatched, and in one sense the “error 550” delivery failure message proves that the sender’s equipment worked well enough to have sent the email in the first place.
How does blacklisting happen?
The problem lies with the IP address associated with the sender’s email. Email is routed using IP addresses. Once, engineers imagined the number of IP addresses using “version” 4 would be impossible to consume. However, as the “Internet of things” continues to grow, “IPv4” faces a crunch. There are not enough IP addresses using the IPv4 convention to supply all devices with unique values, future growth notwithstanding. To keep costs down, engineers use techniques to delegate individual public IP addresses to cover several users. This has become a vulnerability. Larger organisations tend to use dedicated solutions which circumvent this vulnerability.
For example, company A (see “witness.org” in the illustration above) uses a mail server which is uniquely identified on the Internet as 188.8.131.52. However, company B has its owns services, but those services sit within server 184.108.40.206’s environment. In this way, potentially, several hundred organisations can use a common IP address. This practice is most commonly used in retail, or entry level, web hosting.
When an email address has been blacklisted, the IP address attached to an email has been associated with suspicious activity by virtue of the IP address (e.g. 220.127.116.11) which matches an existing entry held by a public blacklist as a source of unusual volumes or otherwise suspicious activity. The activity is not necessarily attributable to the sender at witness.org, in the case of the example above. However all users subscribed to 18.104.22.168 are seen by a public blacklist as one entity. The good news is that the message is returned to sender so that there is a chance for the sender to understand there is a problem.
If an email services have been blacklisted, it could be because a user with a common IP address has been detected distributing suspicious email. This is not always the case, though. It could also mean that the user’s own workstation or office network is responsible, using resources to distribute large mail volumes which might include the business’ own sensitive data. The only way to know a business’ web servers or local machines have not been infiltrated is to conduct a full security review.
There are several reasons that contribute to blacklisting. Perhaps the most usual culprits are catch-all email services, email forwarding, and poorly managed bulk email.
How to fix blacklisting problems
Blacklisting is such a common problem that ISPs need dedicated departments to manage this and other security issues. In terms of mail flow, the bottleneck happens at the recipient’s end. The sender’s services have despatched email, so the sender’s equipment works. However, in practice there is not much motivation for the recipient to intervene to clear the blacklisting block. Usually, the sending ISP intervenes to lift the block by tracing contaminated IP addresses and corresponding with the public blacklists involved. If the underlying reason for a blacklisting is not eliminated and blacklisting persists, eventually public blacklists will permanently block an implicated IP address. Further, if an ISP has reason to believe its user is breaking its contractual terms by causing suspected email to cross its networks, ISPs will usually terminate email services until the user can demonstrate what steps it is taking to arrest the abuse. Potentially, an ISP may seek financial penalties from its user.
More often, businesses are finding that premium services like Exchange, Hosted Exchange, etc. are increasingly necessary to provide the reliability they need.