Griping about their cluttered e-mail inboxes, many students are puzzled and annoyed by the recent spate of spam messages infiltrating their TUmail accounts.
Timothy O’Rourke, vice president of Computer and Information Services, said the wave of junk mail is due to the ever-changing nature of spam.
“Spam is the scourge of the Internet,” O’Rourke said, adding that the new messages are the latest in spam innovation.
According to Computer Services’ statistics, blocked spam accounted for 50 percent of the nearly 5 million e-mails that passed through TUmail’s system last week. O’Rourke said blocking the messages takes up server room, time and money.
Spam, or unsolicited bulk e-mail, has been a problem for both corporate and private e-mail users since the dawn of the Internet. Most e-mail services have put filters in place to try to block spam. Still, floods of spam should be expected from time to time, according to Computer Services.
O’Rourke said Temple uses a spam filter made by Mirapoint Inc., which creates an algorithm that reads each e-mail, checks for key words that spammers frequently use, and then scores each message based on the ratio of the selected words to other text.
According to O’Rourke, Temple can control the score level at which messages are deleted or put into a junk mail folder. To prevent from losing messages that may not be spam, the score is kept at a level that is not too high, leaving spammers with legroom to infiltrate e-mail systems.
Spammers attempt to sidestep blocking systems by using random-wording techniques. By filling a message with words unlikely to trigger a spam filter, the spam has a greater chance of entering a user’s inbox.
When this occurs, students can block the account by using TUmail settings. However, senior advertising major Janie Chung said this doesn’t always work.
“I still get lots of e-mail about software sales and stock quotes that I put on the spam list awhile ago,” Chung said.
Despite these spam-prevention tools, spammers are constantly creating new and inventive methods to bypass software manufactured by companies like Mirapoint.
According to the Spamhaus Project, a non-profit group that tracks e-mail spammers, nearly 80 percent of spam is distributed by a small group of professional spammers. Spamhaus keeps a list of the top 10 spammers in North America and Europe on their Web site.
Along with its other negative effects, spam also consumes quota space within students’ e-mail accounts, which are limited in size.
“TUmail is simple to use; however, I wish that there was some way to save mail that is important to me,” said Tia Jackson, a junior marketing major.
Popular free e-mail providers use large memory banks, enabling them to sell information to spammers and allot more room for spam messages. O’Rourke said Temple does neither.
“Our e-mail is private; we do not let anyone see it,” he said. “We do not sell our data, while [other e-mail providers] do.”
Last semester, spam messages sent to TUmail users appeared as if they were from PayPal, the university’s online payment service provider. Sophomore biology major Lindsay Crandall was a victim of the fraud.
“People trying to hack my PayPal account through Temple e-mail was no fun,” Crandall said.
Known as phishing attacks, these spam messages are designed to mimic those sent by legitimate businesses. They ask recipients to disclose credit card numbers, Social Security numbers and other personal information.
Although most people recognize the ploy, they are sent out in such mass quantities that even a fraction of positive returns produces an effective result for phishers.
Ken Ihrer, chief information security and privacy officer for Computer Services, warned students against opening suspicious e-mails.
“Anything that wants you to log in or click on a link in an e-mail, don’t. Call the business directly, or ignore the message completely,” Ihrer said.
As long as spamming remains legal, it can be used in mass quantities. The only federal legislation against spamming is the Controlling the Act of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003. While the law prohibits fraudulently marked spam or pornographic material, it doesn’t stop bulk mail and exempts religious and political organizations from punishment.
Nolan Rosenkrans can be reached at email@example.com.