Information Technologies

Anti-Spam Information

Preventing receipt of unsolicited mail and trying to take action against those sending it can be difficult to impossible. That being said, there are quite a few ways to minimize its impact on your daily computing here at UWB. The steps toward this will be outlined in the following tutorial.

Contents

Preventions: How to keep spam from starting

Problem 1: I have to provide an e-mail address to access services on the Internet. A major source for people seeking lists of e-mail addresses for interested consumers is purchasing them from other companies. Even if you make sure to clear all the "please send me" when filling out an Internet form or application, that does not always prohibit the company from selling blocks of addresses to people that are happy to send you advertisements for their products as well.

Prevention: Do not use your work e-mail address when subscribing, purchasing, or signing up for anything on the Internet. Instead use a personal address for any on-line subscriptions you make or, if you don't have one you want to use for this, free mailboxes are available through many popular websites including Yahoo, Gmail, and an host of others. Log in once a month to clean it out and your work inbox will be a much more pleasant place.

Problem 2: I have asked to be emailed ad info, but now I want it to stop. If you have been receiving ads legitimately, the company is under no obligation to stop mailing you their info on a regular basis. The fact that you haven't been responding is no deterrent to them, and because e-mail ads cost them virtually nothing, there is no impetus for them to "give up" on you.

Prevention: Take the time to notify them. Legitimate companies are forbidden, by law, from sending unsolicited e-mail. As a result, they are required to include directions or links to facilitate the removal of your address from their distribution list. The steps are usually simple and straightforward and will ultimately save you enough grief to make taking them worthwhile.

Problem 3: All I did was click on a link in an mail advertisement, now I can't stop them. This can be dangerous because these links can be tricky, unreliable, or even dangerous because they start out knowing your e-mail address. When you click these links they may not only take you to the site, but also let the advertiser know it was the e-mail they sent to your address that prompted you to come. Now they know that by sending to your address they stand a chance of getting a response, and this only encourages them to send more ads to you.

Prevention: If you see an ad or a site you'd like to explore in one of these messages, instead of clicking on the links included, open a browser, manually find the company on the web, and explore the website anonymously. In this way, you can decide if they are worthy of your knowing your e-mail address.

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Counter-Measures: They're already here, how do I protect myself now?

Case 1: I received a spam mailing, but there's no removal information or links. This type of illegal SPAM often arrives from addresses ending in @hotmail.com, @yahoo.com, or any other site that advertises free e-mail boxes. There are two common instances for this, 1) the mailbox was illegally set up solely for the purpose of sending out spam, or 2) they have altered the mail so it appears to have arrived from that fictional address (commonly referred to as "spoofing").

Case 2: I received a spam email with some extremely objectionable content. This is another illegal practice that has become pervasive in the world. First off, if you receive one of these offensive offerings, try not to take it personally. You didn't do anything to deserve them; they are as much a part of the spam community as the credit card spam, or debt consolidation spam. While some of these companies are legitimate organizations, plenty more are completely unscrupulous "evil-doers," even to the extent that often they provide links claiming to be for removal, that really put you on more "bad" lists.

Case 3: I received spam email from a mailing or distribution list I subscribe to. When a spammer gets ahold of an address that sends to a list of subscribed e-mail addresses, it's open season for them. Everybody on that list gets a copy and they are guaranteed to get a large distribution with minimal effort. Depending on how many users in a given site are subscribed to the list, this can cause real havoc for the computing department of that institution, both in excessive information storage and unhappy users.

Counter-Measure 1: Delete these messages unread. More often than not, the subject line alone will give you an indication that the content of a certain e-mail will be unsavory. By simply sending it to your deleted items folder, you can save yourself the hardship of having to view any objectionable content. If you are an outlook user, we recommend you turn off the "preview pane" for your inbox. (Highlighting the inbox, clicking on the "view" menu, selecting the "reading pane" subheading, and selecting the "Off" setting.) In this way, you can audit your unread messages without being exposed to their content.

Limitation: Blank subject lines won't help you identify spam in this way. This is no guarantee this will deter the spammer.

Counter-Measure 2: Contact the e-mail provider and/or your local support provider. By contacting the e-mail abuse department of the spammer's provider, you can have the offending mailbox shut down. In most cases you will receive a form letter from them explaining that they will investigate, but that their address may also have been "spoofed" (as above) onto the SPAM. "Spoofing" is an effective way around this counter-measure, but does not make it invalid. Bothell Exchange users can report malicious spam by mailing information to it@uwb.edu.

Limitation: If an address is spoofed, this measure is not effective.

Counter-Measure 3: Use your e-mail program's built-in filtering functions. Many of the most popular e-mail programs come with built-in e-mail filtering services that will dispose of unwanted e-mails for you even as they arrive. On the Bothell campus, the Outlook program is our recommended platform for e-mail usage. Outlook contains a service called the "Rule's Wizard" and "Junkmail" settings, that allow users to set automatic conditions for many aspects of mail handling. Using these services, inbound mail can be audited by sender, subject, body or an assortment of fields to identify it as a certain type of mail, and then it can be directed to the appropriate folder in your mailbox. These are powerful tools, but can be touchy, and as such we recommend users unfamiliar with these functions first contact the helpdesk for in their setup (it@uwb.edu, 425-352-3456).

If you think you are ready to explore these options yourself or you are a PINE user you may find the following links useful.
Filtering in Outlook: http://www.uwb.edu/computing/knowledgebase/filter.xhtml
Filtering in PINE: http://www.washington.edu/computing/faqs/html/pine.filter

Limitation: Effective even against spoofing, there is no guarantee that every SPAM will fit into the conditions of your rules.

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Technology: Is there anything your IT staff can do?

Bothell Email: The local mail system does have a built in layer of filtering that assists us in keeping unwanted mail from reaching our users. The spam function of this system does "spam tagging" and does not actually filter content. This means that our system inserts an identifier into the subject line of any message with characteristics of typical spam messages that exceeds a certain threshold so that our users will be warned of suspected spam messages before you open them. Users may also choose to use their e-mail programs to filter messages arriving at their inbox with this tag, which makes for efficient use of this option.

Limitation: Occasionally this service will suspect spam content for a legitimate message. Users should always be advised to review messages even if they are tagged as spam to prevent loss of wanted mail. 

Bothell Exchange Anti-Virus Scanners: Users of the Bothell Exchange Servers are protected constantly by our server side anti-virus application. This system checks incoming mail for known viruses and cleans infected mail before it is delivered to our users. While this service is not technically a SPAM prevention service, it does prevent malicious payloads attached to seemingly benign mail from reaching you, and should therefore be mentioned among these services.

Seattle Mail Servers: UW Technology is using the policies and practices they have developed over the years operate servers like Homer and Dante. UW Tech's policy for junk mail can be found at: http://www.washington.edu/computing/faqs/html/email.junk.We highly recommend you visit this FAQ if you wish to explore organizations that actively seek ways to limit the impact of the spam scourge.

How Spam Flagging & Filtering Work

  1. An email comes into the UWB network addressed to an @uwb.edu email address, and addressed from an address outside the UWB domain.
  2. The e-mail server runs the message through mail gateway systems that  test each e-mail and score it based on its spam characteristics.
  3. If the final score of these characteristics exceeds the maximum threshold for spam identification the message is flagged with **SPAM?** in the subject line.
  4. If the recipient's e-mail account has an active Outlook junkmail filter or a specialy crafted rule to sort for this subject tag, the message will be moved directly into the recipents Junk Mail folder.
  5. If the recipient's e-mail account does not have a spam filter in place, the mail will appear in the recipient's inbox.

(Note: If you are forwarding e-mail from any other mailbox to your uwb.edu address, there may be further spam prevention technologies affecting your e-mail delivery. You should check with that e-mail provider to confirm these settings.)

 

 

Did You Know?

Bjong "Wolf" Yeigh became UW Bothell's third chancellor on Sept. 3, 2013.