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Spam

Tips on managing spam.

As most of you have heard and noticed, there are a LOT of weird e-mails flying around that appear to come from different people, including yourself, and often have weird attachments and other peculiar features.

Welcome to the 21st century version of Junk Mail, billboards and commercials on TV.

Before I go into the details of the various types of SPAM I'm happy to inform you that Dominican now has a SPAM firewall that should block most SPAM.  We are currently blocking between 85% and 95% of all the e-mail sent to Dominican!  Some messages that are not blocked, but may be SPAM are flagged with [POSSIBLE SPAM] in the subject.

I've been getting a LOT of questions regarding this problem so here are some facts to explain what you're seeing and what we are going to do to try and stop it.

  • The SPAM problem is not limited to Dominican. The problem is so bad nationwide that the Senate has had discussions with the FTC to try and find a cure. Anyone that has had the same e-mail address for over a year or so has Spam problems. Basically what has happened is that the spammers have spent years accumulating databases of email addresses. These addresses are culled by numerous methods including :
  • Searching web sites and getting addresses. Just go to our website and you can search for people. Spammers have written software that can automate the task and can harvest names that way. To quote the article referenced above: "Eighty-six percent of the e-mail addresses posted at newsgroups and Web pages received spam, as did 50 percent of addresses at free personal Web page services, 27 percent from message board postings, and 9 percent of e-mail service directories."
  • Spammers send messages to every possible address aaaa@dominican.edu to zzzz@dominican.edu for example, and see which messages get returned. If the spammer doesn't get a delivery failure notice then they know that the address is good.
  • Have you ever filled out an online form and entered your address ? If so your address is in someone's database and may have been sold.

So by these various means these jerks get your address and that's how you get SPAM.

  • The entire IT industry is struggling with how to stop SPAM. Last year they estimated that by 2007 everyone will get 3,900 spam messages per year. The fundamental problem is that internet e-mail is very open. I can setup an e-mail program to send messages that appear to have come from anyone. If you can do that, how can you block messages based upon the sender's address? And if you filter by content what happens when you accidentally block messages that should have been allowed through ? With the way things are currently setup there isn't any silver bullet to stop spam.
  • Some of the most recent flood of messages has been due to virus's. When someone gets infected with a virus the evil software reads the person's e-mail box and contacts for addresses and then sends itself to all those individuals. So if any time someone you correspond with via e-mail gets a virus, you will get a message. In the past month McAfee has seen over 30,000,000 infected files. The good news is that I've made some significant changes in how our e-mail system blocks attachments. So if someone sends you an infected email message, we are stripping the attachments whether they are known virus's or not. As a result we have not yet been infected with the most recent Sasser virus, which has seriously hurt many organizations.
  • One really irritating problem is when people get messages that appear to be from you, or you get a message that says that you sent a file with a virus.  One thing that spammers and virus's can do is send messages that PRETEND to be from someone other than the actual sender.  This is called "spoofing" and here is some information on how spoofing works.  Basically anyone can PRETEND to be anyone with Internet mail and this is a security flaw with the Internet that the Internet experts are working on eliminating but have not yet solved.
  • The final area that is really evil is the increased use of 'social engineering' to get people to open email messages. Have you noticed those messages that appear to come from the 'Dominican Computer Department' ? Or one that says 'Hi' and asks you to 'respond quickly' ? The hackers/virus writers are using subtle techniques to trick you into opening their programs. 

So please know that I'm fully aware of the problem and like all IT managers everywhere we're trying, but there isn't much more that we can do at this time. There are some creative and very technical ideas out there, but at this time it appears that we all need to learn to just delete a bunch of irritating messages.  Here is an article on spam:  Info World Tech Watch. 


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