UC Davis Implements Solution to Spam
Unsavory Email Reduced by New Filtering Software

Not so long ago, spam was almost a novelty—a quirky email from a stranger in a far away

If you've been wearing out your delete key lately, you may be interested int he campus' new spam-fighting tactic.
place promising super low-interest mortgage loans, amazing appendage-enlarging vitamin supplements, and offers to transfer millions of dollars into your bank account just for sending along your account number. Whether you use email at home or work or both, you have probably received more than your fair share of these flashy advertisements, annoying solicitations, and poorly written letters. Given the sheer volume of spam on campus lately (an increase from about 6 percent to an estimated 40 percent of all email in recent months), the novelty of spam has likely worn off by now—if you’ve ever thought it was a novelty at all.

The Campus Puts a Fork in Spam
Previous Issues
  • IT Times Index: E-mail
  • E-mail S-P-A-M:
  • Campus Digests More Spam
  • Spam on the Rise
  • Quick Tips for Dealing with Spam
  • Spam Filtering at UC Davis
  • UC Davis ListProc
  • Spam Prevention Links
  • Responding to a rapid increase in spam and recognizing the challenges of preventing it altogether, last October Information and Educational Technology (IET), in consultation with campus groups, began looking for ways to prevent campus email inboxes from becoming inundated with spam. After assessing the campus’ needs and evaluating possible spam-reduction options (to date, there is no single method of eliminating spam altogether), the project team recommended SpamAssassin. This free, open-source anti-spam software program was then installed on campus email servers and on May 1, 2003 began scanning and tagging both incoming and outgoing email. According to Dave Zavatson, project team member and Data Center systems architect, campus departments who run their own servers have been contacting the Data Center so they too can take advantage of the effective service.

    Success Rate of the Filter
    Many email programs (including Eudora and Outlook) allow you to set up filters that automatically recognize words and phrases you specify, and they can also recognize tags assigned by programs like SpamAssassin. With a spam-tagging program, setting up filters becomes easier because rather than setting up numerous filters to catch various types of spam, you need only set up a single filter that recognizes tags. Unfortunately, no matter which method you use, filtering is not perfect and the process may fail to identify spam as such (otherwise known as a ‘false negative’) or may misidentify desired messages as spam (a ‘false positive’). Still, many folks on campus are finding the filter successful. Sharie Sprague, Manager, Information Systems Planning & Support, Office of the Chancellor and Provost, points out that since implementation she’s “encountered no false positives, and only a few false negatives.” For more detailed information about options and instructions for setting up spam filtering on commonly-used email programs, visit http://security.ucdavis.edu/spam.cfm.

    Filtering Available for Electronic Mailing Lists
    If you subscribe to electronic mailing lists, you may have noticed that you have received a considerable number of spam email messages via those lists since the May 1 implementation of spam filtering. This is because the mechanism for filtering spam email did not yet apply to messages sent to electronic mailing lists. Phase two, which began on June 1, 2003, includes this filtering function.

    List owners can now choose to filter spam sent to their electronic mailing lists. If you are a list owner and you choose not to set up spam filtering on your lists, members on your lists who have not set up spam filtering on their individual campus email accounts will still receive all spam sent to the list.

    To enable spam filtering on your existing electronic mailing list, visit http://listproc.ucdavis.edu. If you are planning to create a new mailing list, you will be asked if you would like to enable spam filtering during the list set-up process.

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