SpamAssassin

What Is My SpamAssassin Score and What Does it Mean?


SpamAssassin is an open-source, content-matching spam filter from the Apache Software Foundation. Many different mail servers enable SpamAssassin to help filter spam messages for its users.

SpamAssassin uses several different filtering techniques to catch spam, including DNS blocklists, text analysis, Bayesian filtering, and collaborative filtering databases. It uses a scoring system and plug-ins to analyze your email header and the email body copy. The filter then produces a header that outlines your SpamAssassin score and how your email performed against its various checks.

Email on Acid’s Spam Testing feature includes a SpamAssassin analysis, which will produce your SpamAssassin score with a pass/fail, as well as some feedback on how your email performed. Try it free today.

SpamAssassin results
An example of SpamAssassin results in Email on Acid

The SpamAssassin Header

SpamAssassin produces a header that we can use to determine how it set the score for your email. Here is an example of a SpamAssassin header:

X-Spam-Checker-Version: SpamAssassin 3.2.5 (2008-06-10) on JetWeb
X-Spam-Level:
X-Spam-Status: No, score=-0.4 required=5.0 tests=ALL_TRUSTED,AWL,DKIM_SIGNED,
DKIM_VERIFIED,HTML_MESSAGE,URIBL_BLACK autolearn=disabled
version=3.2.5
X-Spam-Report:
* -1.4 ALL_TRUSTED Passed through trusted hosts only via SMTP
* -0.0 DKIM_VERIFIED Domain Keys Identified Mail: signature passes
* verification
* 0.0 DKIM_SIGNED Domain Keys Identified Mail: message has a
signature
* 0.0 HTML_MESSAGE BODY: HTML included in message
* 2.0 URIBL_BLACK Contains an URL listed in the URIBL blacklist
* [URIs: websitehere.com]
* -0.9 AWL AWL: From: address is in the auto white-list

 

Now, we’ll take a look at each header section and what it means.

SpamAssassin Version

The X-Spam-Checker-Version tells us the version of SpamAssassin that evaluated your email. The most current stable release is 3.4.2, with the latest release on September 16, 2018.

SpamAssassin Score

The X-Spam-Level summarizes the score that we’ll explain in more detail below. It will display one star (*) for every point the email earns, rounded down. For instance, if SpamAssassin assigned a score of 3.41, the header will display the score as:

X-Spam-Checker-Version: SpamAssassin 3.2.5 (2008-06-10) on JetWeb
X-Spam-Level: ***

 

Messages with a score of less than one will show no stars in the header.

What Is Your Spam Status?

The X-Spam-Status header starts by telling you flat out if the message is spam or not, then it gives you the exact spam score (in this case, -0.4), as well as the default score threshold for the recipient (“required=5.0”). If an email score lands higher than the threshold, the recipient will mark it as spam.

X-Spam-Status: No, score=-0.4 required=5.0 tests=ALL_TRUSTED,AWL,DKIM_SIGNED,
DKIM_VERIFIED,HTML_MESSAGE,URIBL_BLACK autolearn=disabled
version=3.2.5

 

The default SpamAssassin setting for the threshold is 5.0, but some SpamAssassin installations can use a more or less aggressive threshold. We use a threshold of 5.0 in our Spam Testing service.

In the example above, the email’s spam score was -0.4, and the threshold was set at the default score of 5.0, which means the email is not spam.

The X-Spam-Status header will also give you a list of the tests that have been run, which can help you diagnose why a message might be considered spam. In this case, the tests performed were:

ALL_TRUSTED,AWL,DKIM_SIGNED,DKIM_VERIFIED,HTML_MESSAGE,URIBL_BLACK

 

Now, let’s get into the different tests SpamAssassin will run.

SpamAssassin Tests

The X-Spam-Report breaks down the tests SpamAssassin runs on your email. The point value of each test is listed on the left. Tests with a negative point value result increase the legitimacy of your email (less likely to be spam) and tests with a positive result decrease the email legitimacy (more likely to be spam). Here’s an example of what a header may look like:

X-Spam-Report:
* -1.4 ALL_TRUSTED Passed through trusted hosts only via SMTP
* -0.0 DKIM_VERIFIED Domain Keys Identified Mail: signature passes
* verification
* 0.0 DKIM_SIGNED Domain Keys Identified Mail: message has a
signature
* 0.0 HTML_MESSAGE BODY: HTML included in message
* 2.0 URIBL_BLACK Contains an URL listed in the URIBL blacklist
* [URIs: websitehere.com]
* -0.9 AWL AWL: From: address is in the auto white-list

 

As you can see, the name of each test is in all caps, followed by a short description of what that test looks for. Some of the checks include looking for the email’s Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM), analyzing URLs that are on blacklists, body copy and more.

SpamAssassin can perform hundreds of different tests, so how can you know what you should avoid? Check out ten crucial tips below.

10 Tips for Avoiding the SpamAssassin

  1. Be honest. Make sure your “from” name is accurate, the “to” name is the recipient, and you are sending the email using your domain name. Don’t be sneaky.
  2. Avoid all caps.Using all caps in your subject is like shouting through email. Spam filters don’t like it (your recipients probably don’t like it, either). Don’t use all caps or use them sparingly.
  3. Use conversational language.Avoid using too many spaces, extra capitalizations, or using odd characters or numbers in words (“3mail” or “Em@il”).
  4. Don’t use sketchy phrases. Phrases that you see commonly in spam messages get higher spam scores with filters like SpamAssassin. Even if you’re talking about getting some extra inches of reach with your product, the GrabExtender, you’re going to get flagged. Find another way to say things like this and you should be fine.
  5. Use a verifiable domain. Make sure someone can identify your domain with a verifiable IP address. Someone who checks the domain for the “from” and “reply-to” address should be able to see that the addresses are valid.
  6. Don’t include disclaimers about spam. Avoid saying “this email isn’t spam” or spell out that your email is in compliance with certain laws. If your email message isn’t spam, you shouldn’t need to say this.
  7. Include text. Spammers often use image-only emails to get by spam filters. If you have lots of images, make sure to include a plain text version of your email.
  8. Avoid over-using the word “free”. This word is dangerous to use in email subject lines because of its popularity with spammers. You can try using a synonym like “complimentary” or something similar.
  9. Be careful about other domains in your email. If you link to another site or allow someone to advertise in your email, check that their domain is not on a blacklist.
  10. Test your email! Running a test with a spam checker before sending your email can help save you from the spam traps. Email on Acid’s Spam Testing tool checks your message against 23 of the most common spam filters, including SpamAssassin.

In general, SpamAssassin says:

“Don’t worry too much about specific rules within SpamAssassin. The rules catch spam. If your email isn’t spam, you shouldn’t be matching the rules. Even if you do hit an occasional rule, unless your email is actually spam, it shouldn’t score high enough to be a problem.”

If you’d like to learn more about what triggers SpamAssassin’s ire, check out their extensive list.

This post was updated on January 16, 2019. It was originally published in December 2012.
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Author: Alex Ilhan

Hailing all the way from England, Alex brings his email development expertise along with an endless stream of cups of tea and British cynicism. Follow him on Twitter: @omgitsonlyalex.

1 thought on “What Is My SpamAssassin Score and What Does it Mean?”

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