Campus Digests More Spam
Workgroup Seeking Solutions

In This Issue
  • Spam: Quick Tips

    Previous Issues

  • Spam on the Rise

  • UC Davis: Email

  • Remember when spam was just a (relatively) harmless meat product? Recently the campus has been getting many annoying reminders that the potted pink stuff shares its moniker with something far more insidious. Recently, the amount of unsolicited commercial email, (also known as "spam") has increased in private and campus email accounts.

    Information and Educational Technology has initiated a project to deal with spam since the sudden surge began this past October. In September, the campus counted 1.8 million incoming spam messages. By October, the number had soared to 2.5 million. Universities across the United States reported similar increases of spam with the same characteristics reported at UC Davis.

    For many, the solution to this spam has become the "delete" key. While it is easy enough to strike the delete key to eradicate the unwanted email, this simple approach doesn't address the larger nuisances: spam continues to consume network services, space on servers, and email inboxes. It wastes a lot of time for the people who have to process it, not to mention that sometimes the content can be particularly offensive.

    Equally discouraging are the limited ways in existence for combating spam. Sending a nasty email response to the apparent spam sender may just confirm your email address to the spammer or be sent to someone whose email address was simply forged in the first place. Organizations and individuals attempting to use the court system for spam relief will likely be tied up in the legal system for some time, according to Deborah Allison, Associate Campus Counsel. Since laws governing the criminality of spamming vary from state to state, and since the crime of spamming often crosses state lines, ambiguities arise in prosecuting the offenders. It is also very time consuming to press charges on offenders who are overseas. Finally, broadly deleting all email from a likely spam source may result in the accidental deletion of legitimate and important messages (not to mention an eventual wearing-out of the delete key).

    No Silver Bullet Solution
    Though there are many ways of dealing with spam, almost all methods can only reduce it. At this point, it has become nearly impossible to rid systems of spam altogether.

    The first step in reducing spam is learning to identify and filter it. But it can be difficult to anticipate the exact word variations that occur in any given spam email and thus designate a filtering of those words. Another filtering method has been to ban any messages sent from known spam addresses at either the email server level or at the desktop level.

    Ironically, this kind of careful filtering of spam can often harm the victims of spam rather than the spammers themselves. As this practice of spam filtering spreads, remember that your email message could fail to reach the intended recipient if it contains phrases common in spam messages. In such cases, you as the originator will have no idea that the message has been tagged as spam and, possibly, deleted. So, it might be a good idea to take another look at your outbound email messages and remove any phrases that are common to spam (hopefully you aren't prone to using phrases about hair loss and mortgage reductions in your subject lines). Also avoid using spam techniques such as all upper case letters or non-alphabet characters in the subject or message body, or an empty subject line.

    The Technology Infrastructure Forum (TIF) and TIF-Client Support Issues groups have discussed spam and prepared a thorough analysis of the available approaches to reduce spam. Information and Educationl Technology asked TIF members and other campus technical specialists to participate in a workgroup directly focused on the topic of spam. The workgroup met in mid-November and, using the TIF analysis, provided guidance on which of the alternative spam control methods would be most appropriate for UC Davis email accounts.

    The workgroup suggested a preference of identifying spam at the central email server level and offered specific guidelines for the operation of spam controls.

    Information and Educational Technology will be reviewing these ideas and the technical and financial considerations of integrating spam identification/filtering at the central email server level. As soon as the review is complete, IET will report back to the TIF and computing councils for further discussion and guidance. The campus hopes to reach a careful plan for dealing with this wide-reaching problem within a reasonable timeframe. In the meantime, click here for a list of ways to deal with spam.

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