Jan. 30-Feb. 12, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 2
Back Issues
Darden to run ethics institute
First Lady of Virginia, Lisa Collis, a leader in public service
Facilities focus of BOV’s Student Affairs meeting
Headlines @ U.Va.
Undergrad wins Mitchell Scholarship
Online COMPASS makes room reservations easy
Humans began altering global climate thousands of years ago
Xiaoming ‘Peter’ Yu
Revisiting Racial Diversity
2004 Black History Month Calendar of Events
Stem-cell researcher finds unusual ally in GOP leader
Can the spam: E-mail filter weeds out those unwanted messages
Collage glues together numerous pespectives
What’s a Didjeridu?
Mini-med school accepting applications until Feb. 27
Students drive real estate market

Can the Spam: E-mail filter weeds out those unwanted messages

computer spamBy Matt Kelly

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 with ITC.

“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 are unsolicited.

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.


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