In an attempt to combat the steadily increasing amounts of spam mail entering the inboxes of the WebMail system, UR’s Information Technology Services is offering new programs to filter out unwanted mail.

ITS has been investigating the problem for months, and recently introduced an anti-spam program called SpamAssassin. “ITS began investigating anti-spam software last year and actively started testing SpamAssassin in the spring,” ITS Director Phil Ponella said.

In addition, another program, entitled Procmail, a mail processing engine, will be utilized.

The large influx of spam has created a burden on the system that had to be addressed. “Anything that has the potential to slow down or put an undue load on our systems could impact the ability of faculty and students to do their work,” Ponella said.

The program functions mainly to tag the mail to alert users that it is indeed spam, and does not actually delete e-mails. “Any anti-spam program will likely also block some legitimate e-mail,” Ponella said.

“We want to be sure that any system implemented does not prevent students, faculty and staff from getting their mail. This is why the current implementation allows for levels of blocking.”

Anyone using the WebMail system can opt for any of a variety of filtering options, from a non-filtering or a low setting which will tag only a small amount of spam, to a high setting, which provides more of a chance of legitimate mail being tagged as spam.

Although no e-mail is blocked from users’ inboxes, options to remove it once it enters the e-mail program can be set up. “At the very least when you look at your inbox it will be easy to scan which messages are spam,” Ponella said. “We can also help you set up filters in WebMail or in your e-mail program that will automatically move the tagged messages to another directory or automatically delete them if you want.”

The university contends it would rather let more spam through than be censoring legitimate e-mail and limiting usage of the system.

“We certainly don’t want to be in the business of subjectively censoring or policing e-mail based on content, even if the alternative is to let more spam through,” Vice Provost and Chief Information Officer Mely Tynan said in a recent press release.

Viruses also have been a major problem in the ResNet functioning of late, and Ponella noted the spam is only one of multiple issues ITS is dealing with.

“By itself, spam has been an annoyance, more problematic for some than others, but is only one of many issues that comprise a bigger issue,” he said.

UR also has a license agreement with TrendMicro, and students can download free anti-viral software for their personal computers.

Currently, 140 people are using the filtering software on mail.rochester.edu and 15 on troi.cc.rochester.edu., up from 82 and 14 last week according to ITS.

Students have mixed reactions about the new programs’ effectiveness.

“I tried filtering [spam] to another folder and it didn’t work,” senior Sarah Hammer said. “It’s tagged but then it doesn’t go to another folder. It labels the spam, but I know it’s spam. I think [the program] could be really useful if it works.”

“From my personal experience [the program] is kind of pointless,” senior Greg Dusek said. “I don’t get any spam. It could be good for some people. I don’t find it to be a problem.”

Linden can be reached at klinden@campustimes.org.



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