Unwanted emails or spam are a problem for anyone who has an email account. Currently (March 2006) around 70% of all email sent in the world is spam and the amount appears to be ever increasing. This page explains more about spam, why you receive it and what you can do about it.
What is spam?
There is no generally agreed definition of spam but here it is taken to be email that satisfies the following 3 conditions (taken from Templeton, B. 'Essays on Junk Email')
- Sent from someone unknown to the recipient
- Sent to a large number of people
Why do people send spam?
For money! There may be a few spammers left who are motivated in the same way as graffiti artists but increasingly ‘Spamming’ is a business. Spammers are usually either attempting to defraud you, or more commonly, sell you something. The surprising thing is that enough people must fall for this to make spamming a profitable career.
Where does spam come from?
The majority of spam comes from America with the next most common sources being China and Russia. The problem of spam is not a new one. The first ever piece of Internet spam was sent in 1978 by Einar Stefferud, an employee of DEC to try to increase sales of a new computer. Today around 70% of all email in the world is spam and the figure is rising fast.
Does WBS filter my email to remove spam?
No but all email sent to or from WBS passes through mail relays operated by the central university's IT Services department. They do attempt to filter for spam and upon finding a message that is suspected of being spam they append the characters ***SPAM*** to the subject of the message. This can be used to manage these messages (see below).
What can I do about spam?
It is *not* possible to eliminate spam and to continue to receive all legitimate email. The first person who can design a system that can do this will probably become as rich as the founders of Google. The following are some concrete steps that you can take to reduce the problem:
- Do not reply to spam, ever! Some spam messages invite you to send an email to unsubscribe. Do not do this; if you do you are showing the spammer that your email account is being used and the contents read. Your email address then becomes much more valuable and by responding to the original message you will only get more spam
- Never ever buy anything from a spammer. This sounds obvious but enough people do buy from spammers to make it worth their while to continue sending messages. If we all stopped buying from spammers there would be no incentive for them to stay in business
- Think twice (and then think again) before forwarding petitions, jokes etc and never forward virus warnings to anyone else but the Helpdesk (email@example.com). We will be happy to investigate the supposed warning and share it with all users if appropriate. The majority of ‘virus warnings’ are really advertisements, hoaxes or viruses themselves
- Be careful when giving out your email address. In particular if you are required to enter an email address when downloading software etc use a different email address then you university one (online email address from Yahoo and Hotmail are free, set one up and use that)
- Avoid having your email address posted online. If your address does have to be posted talk to the page author to see if your address can be posted as a picture rather than as text
- Do not ‘mail-bomb’ the spammer’s mailbox. As well as possibly signalling that you check your email it is also quite easy for a spammer to ‘spoof’ an email address. This means that they put a fake address in the ‘from’ field in the email and hence you will be punishing the wrong party
- Protect your computer against viruses. The most common type of viruses now try to steal email addresses in order to send them spam or to spoof the address. Although technology can help to protect your computer, you remain the best defence. Never open an email attachment if you have any doubts about it. Simply forward it to the Helpdesk and we will be happy to check it for you
- Avoid using the QuickViewer feature in Groupwise or Preview in Outlook. Some spammers include a tiny image in an email. Any email preview system will open the email and try to show the little picture. This requires going to the spammer’s server which indicates to them that you have opened their message, thus resulting in your receiving more spam
- Let IT Services know about your problem by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org They manage the filters and thus only they are in a position to change them if they are letting too much spam through (or blocking too many legitimate messages). Do not forward spam messages to another email address without their permission however or you may be accused of spamming yourself
Is the future really so bleak regarding spam?
Maybe not. Recently there have been attempts in both the US and the EU to legislate against spam. In addition Bill Gates (Microsoft’s co-founder) recently forecast that the war against spam would be won within two years (unfortunately this forecast was made over two years ago and victory has yet to arrive).