Can the Spam: E-mail filter weeds
out those unwanted messages
Tired of hearing from people
who want to reshape your body, sell you toner or herbal Viagra
and think you’re just the person to help them smuggle millions
out of Africa?
ITC has engaged an assassin to help you.
The Information, Technology
and Communication department has added SpamAssassin to its
Central Mail Server. This software package scans all incoming
electronic mail for telltale signs of spam, the common term for
unsolicited commercial e-mails. Once an e-mail customer signs
on to the service, the program searches the file header and contents
of incoming e-mails for signs of spam and routes likely spam messages
to a separate folder, where the customer can sift through them
at his or her leisure.
“I get dozens [of spam messages] a day and it is a waste
of time,” said James A. Jokl, director of the communications
and systems division at ITC. “And if you delete them by
hand, you might pick something you shouldn’t have.”
The SpamAssassin user can set the filter’s sensitivity from
level one, for the most sensitive, to 10, which is the least sensitive.
Jokl prefers a seven setting for his own e-mail and suggested
people experiment with settings to see which work best for them.
“A lot of people use settings below seven,” Jokl said.
SpamAssassin scans for key words such as “lose body fat,”
“as seen on,” and different colors and fonts, but
these protocols continually change. ITC had to tweak the rule
settings because e-mails with the word “Virginia,”
which contains the word “virgin,” were tagged as porn
spam, said Jeffrey W. Collyer, a computer systems senior engineer
“Spammers quickly learn how to work around the rules, so
the rules also are frequently updated,” said Robin Ruggaber,
manager at ITC Network Systems.
Aside from scanning headers and text, Spam- Assassin also compares
the senders to existing lists of known spammers. There are plans
to refine the program for additional features, such as personal
configuration options. Collyer said this would include “white
lists,” where a customer can request specific senders whose
messages are always accepted, and “black lists,” where
specific senders are always excluded.
Putting the filter on the central server is more efficient than
having filters on individual e-mail programs, which Ruggaber said
could be inconsistent.
SpamAssassin has been gaining popularity since it was placed on
ITC’s server in early December. By Jan. 9, nearly 2,000
customers had signed up for the filter service, out of a potential
customer base of about 25,000. Collyer predicted even more sign-ups
as students return for the spring term.
“We have had some requests for more features and the feedback
thus far has been very overwhelmingly positive,” Ruggaber
said. “We have also seen an increase in people migrating
from other systems to the Central Mail Server to gain this capability.”
SpamAssassin is an open source program, which means it is free,
and people can tinker with it.
Collyer estimated that 50 to 60 percent of e-mails nationwide
Approximately 25 to 30 percent of the filtered e-mails at U.Va.
are snagged as spam. Collyer does not expect that percentage to
increase as more people sign up.
“If you receive mail you don’t want, that’s
spam,” Jokl said.