Spam (junk e-mail)
What is spam? |
Spam stats |
How do they get your address? |
Avoiding spam |
SNC's anti-spam server
What is spam?
On the Internet, "spam" means unsolicited e-mail generally considered junk by the receiver, usually commercial and bulk-mailed (sent to lots of people at once). Some people use the term spam more broadly to mean any unwanted e-mail. If you use e-mail, you've undoubtedly received and been annoyed by spam, and wondered how to make it stop.
Is spam illegal?
The act of sending spam is not illegal. If the spam promotes an illegal product or service, it's illegal. There are laws in some states and some countries that make some types of spamming activities illegal, but this varies by location. Unfortunately, the state laws aren't uniform, there's no universal law against spam, and the laws that do exist are not well-enforced. And of course U.S. laws have no power against spam that comes from outside the U.S., which much of it does.
Think you get a lot of spam? Consider this: the latest figures show that over 90% of all e-mail is spam. On some days, the levels have risen as high as 96.55%. Between 80-90% of all e-mail received by our servers is spam.
But the levels fluctuate. You've probably noticed that the amount of spam you get, both that which is caught by the anti-spam server and that which gets through, goes up and down over time. This is because the spammers keep coming up with new techniques to try and beat the anti-spam filters, so the anti-spam folks have to come up with ways to block them, then the spammers come up with more new tricks, and the cycle goes on & on... The anti-spam companies have full-time staffs of people who analyze spam and continually refine their systems to better catch spam.
How do they get your address?
So, how do "spammers" (those who send the spam) get your e-mail address? The most common ways are:
- Buying lists of e-mail addresses
- Using programs that collect e-mail addresses from web pages, subscriber lists, newsgroups, chat rooms, etc.
- Getting it when you enter it on their web site
- Copying them from online phone books/white pages directories
- Randomly generating them (using computer programs to "guess" at all of the possible addresses for any given domain, such as
Never reply to spam or send remove requests. Although it may be tempting to lash out at the spammers, replying to spam is a waste of time. 99% of the time, the message will bounce anyway, because spammers always use fake return addresses to hide their identities. Your time is better spent just deleting the spam & getting back to work. If there's a notice at the bottom of the message telling you how to remove yourself from their list, don't do it unless it's a trusted company like Amazon.com or The New York Times. This is even worse than a waste of time; it's the equivalent of saying "spam me!" If you respond, they'll know that your e-mail address is valid, so they'll send you more spam, and they'll sell your address to other spammers.
Don't give up any more information than necessary during online transactions. There's always a risk that the information you give a site will be misused, so don't give them more than they really need. If they don't need your real e-mail address (to send you a receipt or something), you can use a fake one. If you're going to use a fake address, use
firstname.lastname@example.org, example.org, or example.net, replacing "anyword" with any word or letters. These "example" domain names are reserved for experimentation and testing, so there's no risk of accidentally using someone's real address.
When making online purchases, signing up for accounts, sending electronic greeting cards, etc., there are usually checkboxes at the bottom of the forms offering the options of receiving free offers or having your information shared with "partners." Just say NO. If you refuse these offers, you should only get administrative e-mail messages from the site.
If you're going to post to chat rooms, message boards, mailing lists, newsgroups, don't use your primary e-mail address. Use an alternate address or free account (Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, etc.).
Don't enter online lotteries & contests.
Use up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware software. What does that have to do with spam? Spyware and viruses can infect your computer, steal your information, and turn your computer into a "zombie" that they use to send their spam. One anti-spam company says that spam surges are almost always tied to spyware/virus outbreaks.
SNC's anti-spam server
The College operates an anti-spam server to reduce the amount of spam received by SNC e-mail users. The name of the product we use is the "Barracuda Spam & Virus Firewall." Note that this system greatly reduces the amount of spam you receive, but no system can block 100% of all spam. Of all e-mail sent to SNC addresses, Barracuda usually blocks 80-90% because they're spam or viruses.
However, it's difficult to balance blocking a lot of spam and not blocking legitimate mail, so the system does make some "mistakes" (it is only a computer, after all). Because of this, you should be checking your Spam Quarantine every day - every day you're at work, at least - to make sure that no legitimate messages were quarantined. The daily Spam Quarantine Summary e-mail message you get should serve as a reminder to do this. You can also build a whitelist of allowed senders to reduce the number of legitimate messages that are quarantined. For more information, see the handout
Barracuda Anti-spam Server.
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Assistance and questions
If you have any questions or need more information, contact the Information Services Desk at (920) 403-4040 or email@example.com. The Information Services Desk is for St. Norbert College students and employees only.