New spam filter cuts down junk mail

8:52:27 AM CDT - Friday, September 24, 2004

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

Thousands of junk mail messages coming into WSU's e-mail server are now being thwarted daily, thanks to a new filter that went operational in late August, according to a WSU computing official.

University Computing and Telecommunications Services has implemented what's called a "real-time blacklist" filter, and now about 33 percent, or about 17,000, of the e-mail messages processed at WSU daily are being filtered out as junk mail, says Mike Erickson, assistant director and manager of technical services and operations for University Computing.

As messages come into WSU's e-mail server, senders are compared to a list of known spam sources. If a match is made, the e-mail message is dumped, Erickson explains. The amount of e-mail being cut averages about 33 percent, although it has gotten as high as 42 percent on a single day, Erickson says. WSU's e-mail server averages about 50,000 incoming messages daily.

Culling easily-identifiable spam is just the first step in UCATS' plan to reduce junk mail, says Erickson. If you're still seeing e-mail in your inbox for Viagra, that's probably because it's coming from a valid e-mail server. The blacklist filter also doesn't ban e-mail that's being sent out from an infected computer, in which a virus has overtaken a user's e-mail address book and starts sending spam.

"We recognize that some people haven't seen much of a reduction, and that's because of the source, but we're not done yet," says Erickson. "The next phase will help reduce that."

Within the next few weeks, UCATS plans to implement a second filter that will sift through e-mail by subject line keywords.

A more labor-intensive step in cutting junk mail is to be phased in in early 2005, according to Erickson. In the third step, WSU e-mail users will be able to set up their own personalized blacklists. This third step will require some training on the part of users. Essentially users will get a message alerting them that the filtering system has identified the incoming message as potential spam. Recipients can choose to have it delivered or not.

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