If you routinely come across captcha verification requests while browsing the internet, don’t blame your service or the website you are accessing. This is due to the simple fact that your public IP used to access the website is blacklisted.
Just in case if you aren’t aware of the process through which you are connected to the internet, here’s how it is done:
- You are connected with the local WiFi router (also known modem)
- Your Router is connected with an ISP
- Your router is assigned an IP (a unique number, just like telephone number)
- Your this IP is used to identify your presence on the internet
So this IP of yours, that’s assigned by your ISP, is going to act your public identity. If it is somehow blacklisted — we will tell you later that why an IP is blacklisted — then you are going to be hounded every minute you are online.
Alarmingly, most ISPs in Pakistan are using blacklisted IPs and the problem is particularly severe for 3G/4G users. Zong, PTCL are reportedly on the top-list for usage of such bad IPs.
While some ISPs like to assign 1 IP per user, others use a technique called ‘NATing’ to identify multiple users through a single IP. The latter technique is the more common one in Pakistan.
Since NATing is commonplace, a single bad IP can be assigned to hundreds if not thousands of users and all of these users end up entering CAPCHAs when they browse the internet.
Let see why and how IPs are blacklisted.
- When users send SPAM emails/messages
- When users access malicious websites
- When malware on an IP auto broadcasts scripts
- and so on.
The issue is exacerbated by the state of security on the internet. Cyber attacks have become worryingly common and sites are using tools like CloudFlare or the lesser known Incapsula to protect themselves against such threats.
If you visit any site that takes such precautionary measures, you’ll face issues if you have been assigned a bad public IP by your service provider.
Situation Can Be Resolved Easily
What’s even more frustrating about this whole predicament is the ease with which it could be resolved.
Anytime an IP is blacklisted, the company that owns it is notified via an automated email about the incident and the reason behind it.
So if I run a ProPK hosting service and an IP is blacklisted, it would send an email to [email protected] or a more general [email protected] That in turn creates a ticket in the helpdesk software and can be resolved readily.
Unfortunately, most IP ownership in Pakistan is under private email addresses. This means blacklisted IP email notifications are sent to someone who, in all probability, doesn’t even understand what he’s receiving and just files them under spam.
All that’s needed is for service providers to work out a system to keep their network clean. They can do that through an effective network policy and by re-submitting any blacklisted IPs for reconsideration.
As mentioned above, IPs are blacklisted due to users’ activity, meaning that ISPs and Telcos aren’t responsible for the mess, but what they are responsible for is the usage on their network. For example they should restrict users from sending SPAM (Limit any SMTP connections, relay) and so on.
There are a multitude of companies that keep track of ‘IP Reputation’ and many that maintain up to date blacklists. The most well-known provider (and the industry standard) of these blacklists is spamhaus.org. So if you are listed in SpamHaus, you can be assured you’ll be restricted at the server end. There are also SmapCop, SORBS, Barracuda and SenderBase which are more commonly used by Email Servers to reject emails.
So if any site/server is using high end protection or CloudFlare/Incapsula and your IP is listed on any blacklist maintained by the well-known providers above, you are going to have issues.
Problems Faced When You are on a BlackListed IP
If you are using any Email Client (Such as Outlook, Thunderbird etc), you will face issues sending email because these email clients also forward your Public IP to the receiving server. And if the receiving server has tighter security, it will block your email.
At this point, we should add that CATPCHA codes aren’t the only harmful effects of this lazy attitude by our service providers. Email delivery can also be affected depending on server settings. If you’re shopping on international websites, your order could go straight to the Fraud section. While some sites already consider Pakistan as a high risk country and vet all information thoroughly, IP repute plays a big part in ‘Auto Fraud Checks’.
At the end of the day, it’s a major usability hurdle for users and the only way to resolve it is by bringing the attention of the service providers and governing authorities to it. For a blacklisted IP to be removed from a provider’s range or for it to be reconsidered, you need to send an email through the registered IP ownership address. This means salvation lies purely in the hands of our ISPs and telcos.
For the more savvy of our readers, here are a few examples that we came across while we were writing the article. All of these IPs are blacklisted.
- 18.104.22.168/13 = 524286 IPs of PTCL
- 22.214.171.124/15 = 131070 IPs of PTCL
- 126.96.36.199/24 = 255 IPs of Zong
What Should ISPs and Telcos Do?
- Acknowledge that this is a serious issues. However, we have a sinking feeling that a large number of complaints will be the only thing that pushes them to take action.
- Teach helpline operators about “IP BlackLists” and what they should do if someone complains about it
- Encourage customers to have a working and updated Antivirus on their system to make sure nothing fishy is going on. (If you have made a complaint to PTCL for slow speed, I am sure most of you have heard the response “uninstall Antivirus”.)
- Develop a system to alert/check of IP reputation of their entire IP range. This is trivial to do for anyone experienced.
- Have someone submit a proper request for IP removal from those blacklists using the proper email ID.
What Can You as a Customer Do?
If you are browsing and see that issue, do the following
- Take a screenshot of the site (i.e. CAPTCHA Page)
- Go to http://ip.propakistani.pk/ to get your Public IP.
- 3) Go to https://mxtoolbox.com/blacklists.aspx to check your IP against multiple blacklists at the same time. Take a screenshot.
- Send both of the screenshots to your ISP/Telecom provider customer email asking them to resolve the issue. (May be send a link to this post as well for explanation of the issue)
- Pray that they will actually look into this.
If you are seeing annoying “CAPTCHA” messages on every other site, it’s because your Public IP is blacklisted. You are not alone in this issue because most of our ISP’s IPs are listed in these blacklists and that is causing serious issues.
Too many blacklisted IPs are giving us Pakistanis a bad repute on the internet. Since ISPs doesn’t really seem to care about this issue, it’s time we join hands to get this issue resolved.