From The Help Desk - Electronic Junk mail

Spam, unsolicited commercial email, or junk mail are all terms which evoke a strong feeling of resentment or abomination in many people and they are just what you are getting in your inbox at HKU everyday.   They are the electronic version of the colorful advertisements stuffed into the mailbox at your house.

Spam is originally the name of a canned luncheon meat made by Hormel which is generally thought to be of no nutritional value.  The term "email spamming" is now used to describe the sending of many copies of the same message via the Internet to people who did not ask to receive it.  Spam is now a synonym for junk mail. Spamming is essentially free for the spammer. The recipients pay for delivery and storage of the spam. Even a very small percentage of people responding to those ads makes spamming effective for the spammer.  Spamming is becoming a serious problem for computer systems because the junk mail soon fills up our mailboxes causing our mail quota limit to be exceeded, and it also creates a load on the network traffic, not to mention the time it takes recipients to delete them.

Where do people get their mailing lists?

E-mail spamming is primarily transmitted through mailing lists of e-mail addresses.  Advertisers collect lists of e-mail addresses and then send their ads directly to individuals. Various methods exist for collecting addresses. Advertisers routinely collect addresses from scanning Usenet posts, stealing Internet mailing lists, searching directory services, or searching the Web for addresses. Such information is gathered with automated searches to retrieve E-mail addresses for spamming. Web-site guest books are also a popular source.  In essence, if you ever visit anywhere or do anything on the Internet, you probably left a trace to your email address.

Bulkmail at HKU

Bulkmail at HKU is not to be thought of as junk mail.  Bulkmail is the dissemination of e-mail notices from university departments to staff and students of the university.  They contain announcements on academically related activities in the various departments in the university.  What seems totally irrelevant information to one recipient may be welcomed by another as an opportunity for expanding the mind or uplifting the spirit.  Computer Centre is under obligation to send these notices out to the HKU community for the various departments and administrative offices of HKU.

What we have done to reduce Spamming ?

The mail servers in Computer Centre are set not to relay mail that is sent from outside the HKU network going to addresses outside of the HKU network.  In this way, we do not become part of a chain sending spam mail from server to server.  This is why you must configure your SMTP server to be your ISP's SMTP server if you are using an ISP's network.

Computer Centre has also implemented the following two checkings on our mail servers to fight against spamming:

1:  SPAMCONTROL is a software package installed on the Centre's mail servers to detect junk e-mail by volume. Once the spamming has reached a pre-configured level, it will block the originating site completely.

2:  Any site whose name appears in the "Mail Abuse Protection System's Realtime Blackhole" list will be blocked access to the Centre's mail servers.

What you can do about spam ?

You should not respond or send "remove" messages to spams as this just assures the spammers that your email address is valid for future spams.

Almost all PC client email software, e.g. Eudora, Netscape mail, Outlook Express etc., provide functions for you to filter the incoming email (Refer to the documentation on that email software for filter setting). You can make use of this filter function to reject any junkmail from being downloaded to your PC.  For example, in Eudora 3.05, click Tools...Filters...New...and enter your filter rules.  In Netcape 4.x, in the Mail screen, click Edit...Message Filters and then enter your criteria.

Users can also report spam mail to ithelp@hku.hk.  If the spammer is from an outside site, we can only file a complaint to the administrator of the offending site for his subsequent action. Users can also file their complaints directly to the administrators of the offending sites if they know their email addressses (information of a site can be looked up at the SPAMCOP).

If  the spammer is a HKU member, we will investigate the matter.  If mail abuse is established, Computer Centre will issue a warning to the sender and may disable the abuser's account.

There seems to be not too much one can do about the hateful junk mail. One approach would be to simply delete the unwanted mail without reading them and without getting excited.

Please share with us if you have any creative ways to handle junk mail.
 

Mabel Chau
Tel: 2859 8934
Email: chaumabc@hku.hk



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