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IT Fights the Never-Ending Battle of the SPAM

Submitted by on July 19, 2010 – 4:53 pmNo Comment

When college employees stop receiving e-mail from friendly contacts or get unwanted SPAM, they can report the problem to the Information Technology (IT) Department. According to Network Systems Director Cliff Hangley, e-mail addresses that have a history of sending SPAM or contain viruses are blocked automatically, just as SPAM occasionally evades detection. Considering the enormous amount of e-mail South Florida Community College receives on a daily basis, little can be done to prevent this from occurring.

A report generated by Cisco Systems Inc. on July 14 determined that SFCC received 250,000 e-mails on that one day alone. Roughly 98 percent were rejected by the e-mail server’s automatic response filter, which identifies e-mail that contains the characteristics of SPAM. Another 1 percent were blocked because they were known to be SPAM or contained viruses. The remaining 2,500 e-mails, a mere 1 percent of the total received, were cleared for delivery to their intended recipients.

Hangley said these numbers are about average for the college on any day, which is why IT depends on SPAM- and virus-detection software to weed out e-mail that fits SPAM patterns or contains hidden viruses. If the e-mail comes from a known spammer, the e-mail is rejected, and the sender is blocked.

However, not all senders identified as spammers are malicious. Sometimes, they are just unlucky.

“Senders may have a virus on their computer, and they don’t know it,” Hangley said. The virus allows SPAM e-mail to be sent from their e-mail account, which causes the recipients to report the e-mail as SPAM. Over time, the e-mail address is identified as a SPAM violator, and it is automatically blocked.

If automatic filtering seems like a nuisance to employees who are waiting for e-mail that never comes, the sheer volume of e-mail the college receives makes it a necessity. “The IT staff can’t read and review all 250,000 e-mails we get every day, and manually decide which ones should go through,” Hangley said.  However, IT can remove blocks on legitimate e-mail address that may have been covertly hijacked for sending SPAM. If you are concerned that you are not receiving e-mail, contact the IT Help Desk at ext. 7462 or e-mail helpdesk@southflorida.edu.

 The high number of SPAM e-mails SFCC receives reflects the amount of SPAM circulating around the Internet. According to Sophos, an international developer of Internet security software and hardware, 97 percent of all e-mail is SPAM. In the first quarter of 2010, the United States topped Sophos’ “Dirty Dozen” SPAM-producing countries (13.1 percent), followed by India (7.3 percent), Brazil (6.8 percent), South Korea (4.8 percent), and Vietnam (3.4 percent).

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provides tips for protecting yourself from receiving unwanted SPAM e-mail (www.fcc.gov). However, if a sneaky SPAM e-mail manages to slip under the radar and maneuver its way into your In Box, the best approach is to mark it as “Junk.” This automatically moves the e-mail to your Junk folder and identifies the sender as a spammer, thereby aiding future SPAM detection. If you are receiving excessive amounts of SPAM, contact IT.

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