ITU Offers Tips to Handle Holiday Spam

Posted: December 9, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Fran Rensbarger

While the university community takes a break for the holidays, those that send spam do not. Junk e-mail will continue to fill faculty and staff in-boxes, but there are ways to keep it under control, according to staff members in the Information Technology Unit (ITU).

“The Mason community has been searching for a solution to spam, to get rid of it before it hits the mailbox,” says Walt Sevon, executive director of the Technology Systems Division of ITU. But until Mason has a university-wide spam blocker, users can reduce the amount of spam they receive by fighting back. The best advice Sevon offers is to check e-mail every day or two during vacation and delete the spam regularly.

“A good rule of thumb,” adds Cathy Hubbs, information technology security coordinator, “is to delete any suspicious messages and never reply or attempt to unsubscribe to spam.”

Many faculty and staff members set an automatic vacation message to reply to all e-mail. “Keep in mind that the vacation message option only includes an ‘on’ or ‘off,'” says Hubbs. “A user can not specify who receives the vacation message, so spammers will also receive a response.”

Another valuable defense is to set up e-mail filters to block spam from entering the mailbox. The ITU Support Center can help users with this process. “The most effective spam stopper is a strategic use of available software–some of it free,” Sevon says.

“Filtering is an option that is available with most client e-mail applications, and the user can route filtered messages to the trash can,” Hubbs says. “ITU has not come out with a particular software to recommend, although several users have had good experiences with the top sellers–McAfee’s Spam Killer and Giant Company’s Spam Inspector. Both offer free trials.”

Also, Netscape’s version 7.1 has spam filtering Junk Mail Control, Sevon says. “Once you get it trained, it works well. You have to tell it what is spam and what is not, and you have to leave your machine on.” He also recommends Mozilla version 1.5.

Other ITU suggestions on reducing the amount of spam include:

  • Not clicking the “unsubscribe” link, which proves the e-mail address is active

  • Disguising e-mail addresses posted in public electronic places by spelling out the address

  • Using a free e-mail address, such as Yahoo or Hotmail, when the main address might be public

  • Avoid providing e-mail addresses when filling out online forms or making purchases unless required

  • Avoid using primary e-mail addresses in chat rooms and web-based discussion groups

For more information about spam and what the university is doing about it, visit the ITU security web site.

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