ISS works to eliminate spam

The University is set to implement a spam filter by the end of next week to help decrease the amount of unwanted e-mail students receive on their GW accounts.

The filter will analyze incoming e-mails and, if identified as spam, place them into a special folder where the user can either delete them manually, or choose to have them deleted after one, seven or 14 days.

Information Systems and Services Administrative Applications will instruct all GW account users on how to use the filter before its’ implementation, Kerry Washburn, the department’s director of administrative applications, wrote in an e-mail. The University sent a blast e-mail to students and staff last month informing them of the filter.

“We anticipate that the filter will detect at least 80 percent of what the average user would consider to be spam,” said Washburn, who declined to comment on how much the system cost.

The filter is being installed in response to an online survey ISS conducted last April to gauge concern about spam mail. The survey questions focused on the amount of spam account holders receive and actions they prefer the University to take.

The new software will identify and “tag” incoming e-mail that appears to be spam, instead of immediately eliminating the mail, to make sure that legitimate e-mail is not mistakenly identified as spam.

Based on the survey, “it appears that all of the messages that the filter tags as spam would also have been identified as spam” by a user, Washburn said.

“The filter applies a complex set of calculations for each message, based on properties of the message,” Washburn said.?

She added that the calculations are purposely complex in order to “defeat the various tricks that spammers use to try to slip past less sophisticated spam filters.” Often spam mail has subject lines – such as “Hey” and “Re:Hello” – that are designed to trick users into opening them.

The properties of the message are then compared to a national database of known spam messages, and if a match is found, the filter inserts a tag within the message’s headers.

But spam filters are not always 100 percent correct in recognizing e-mail as unwanted, said a representative from a communications firm, Tumbleweed Communications, which specializes in secure messaging software. The representative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said “you may miss legitimate mail” if the messages are automatically purged, a problem that GW’s system is designed to avoid.

Some students said they regularly receive unwanted messages in their e-mail accounts.

“I get so many strange messages every day, many of which are probably viruses,” junior Sarah Womack said. “This software will make checking my e-mail much faster. I think I will be someone who saves the spam and checks through it, but that’s only going to be once a week.”

Some students who said they do not get a lot of spam think it is still important to protect GW accounts.

Sophomore Violet Ricker said she only receives excessive e-mails from lists she subscribes to, but she is pleased the University is getting a filter because “our GW e-mail accounts are where we get the bulk of our information from professors, about classes and school changes.”

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