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Definition of Tarpitting

Tarpitting, also known as "tar pitting" or "greylisting," is a technique used in network security to slow down or impede potential threats, particularly from spam and malicious activities. Essentially, tarpitting introduces delays into the communication process between a sender and recipient, making it more difficult and costly for spammers or attackers to flood a system with unwanted messages or requests.

Origin of Tarpitting

The concept of tarpitting originated from the need to combat spam emails, which have been a persistent nuisance on the internet since its early days. The term "tarpit" was first coined by Vern Paxson in the late 1990s as a mechanism to deter email spammers. It gained popularity as a defensive tactic against various forms of network attacks, including email spamming, brute-force password attacks, and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

Practical Application of Tarpitting

One practical application of tarpitting is in email servers. When an email server receives a message from an unknown sender, it can respond with a temporary failure message, indicating that the message could not be delivered immediately. This delay discourages spammers, as they often use automated systems that move on to the next target if a message fails to deliver promptly. Legitimate email servers, on the other hand, will retry delivery after a delay, eventually successfully delivering the message.

Benefits of Tarpitting

Reduced Spam: By introducing delays in communication, tarpitting reduces the efficiency of spamming operations, making it less lucrative for spammers to inundate systems with unsolicited messages.

Enhanced Security: Tarpitting helps in thwarting various network attacks, including brute-force password attacks and DDoS attacks, by slowing down the attackers' progress and giving defenders more time to respond.

Resource Conservation: Tarpitting conserves network and server resources by limiting the amount of spam and malicious traffic that enters a system, thereby improving overall system performance and reliability.


Tarpitting introduces minimal delays for legitimate communications, typically lasting only a few seconds or minutes. However, these delays are usually inconsequential for regular users and are outweighed by the benefits of reduced spam and enhanced security.

While tarpitting is an effective tool in combating spam, it is not a foolproof solution. Spammers continuously adapt their tactics, and some may circumvent tarpitting by using sophisticated techniques. However, when combined with other spam filtering methods, tarpitting significantly reduces the volume of spam.

Implementing tarpitting requires specialized software or configurations tailored to your specific network environment. Many email servers and network security appliances offer built-in tarpitting features that can be enabled and configured according to your requirements. Alternatively, network administrators can deploy dedicated tarpitting solutions or customize existing ones to suit their needs.


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