Spam is simply electronic junk mail, often generated by a "Spam engine" and automatically sent to email addresses acquired from various sources on the Internet. Spam can be used as medium for advertising material, to trick people into responding with private information (bank accounts, personal contacts, etc), known as "phishing", or simply to distribute nonsense on a scale that is annoying, disruptive and counter-productive.
Spam does not normally directly carry viruses or worms, but can be used to spread such malicious programs by directing people to websites which may try to infect your computer. More importantly, if generated in sufficient quantities, it can clog email boxes and systems, and as such, present as a serious productivity barrier for individuals and organisations.
The extent to which Spam is being circulated is increasing year by year. While some Governments have legislation in place to combat its generation (Australia is among these), this is patchy and generally ineffective. Further, Spam can be generated from anywhere in the world, and the "generators" move from server to server, country to country, reducing the effectiveness of local legislative measures.
The Internet provides an open environment where Spam is easy to generate and difficult to prevent. There are defences against Spam but their effectiveness is highly variable.
What steps has the University taken to combat Spam?
In 2005 the University implemented the "greylisting" mechanism described above at the organisational level. This immediately reduced the amount of Spam entering the University from 46% to 9% of its total incoming email.
- In 2006 the University activated the Mirapoint junk mail filter at the server but the choice of turning the Spam filtering was up to the user.
- In 2007 the University introduced a quarantine mechanism - the Junk Mail Manager.
The University continues to work with its anti-virus, firewall and email server vendors to assess additional steps that could be taken to resolve this issue.
How much Spam email is sent to UOW?
The graph below shows the amount of external email received per minute by the UOW mail servers the previous week. The orange line represents how much email was identified and treated as Spam.
What can you do to reduce Spam?
The Spam issue is one that will most likely be resolved at the global level, through a combination of concerted legislative change and improved Spam defence/identification technologies. While the powerlessness of the individual may be a little disconcerting, some steps can be taken at the local level to protect against Spam.
- Firstly, you should not respond to Spam email. Such action will at best result in your receiving more Spam and at worst, could result in the misuse of private information that is contained in your response. In this regard you should be aware that if you choose to set up automatic replies, such as vacation messages, they will automatically reply to Spam as well as legitimate email.
- Secondly, ensure that your desktop machine is "patched" to the latest security level, is appropriately fire-walled, and that it is equipped with current, active anti-viral software. While the operating system "patches" and anti-viral software are not geared toward blocking Spam, keeping these computer defence mechanisms installed and up to date provides protection from attacks that may be using Spam as a method of propagation.
- Lastly, familiarise yourself with the Spam filtering mechanisms that are included within your email client and present on your email server. Experiment with the settings that are available but be aware that overly aggressive settings may result in legitimate email being treated as Spam.
There is no current technical or political solution to the overall problem of Spam worldwide. It will continue to be an annoyance to email users and IT managers for the foreseeable future. At best, the measures above will only reduce the problem.
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