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Spam email: what is being done to combat it

17 Jan 2007

New detection techniques apply to all addresses from 22 January 2007

Most users of email on campus will have noticed that the amount of spam email they are receiving has increased significantly over the past few months. Not only is the receipt of spam irritating, it can be unpleasant and time is often wasted in dealing with it. IT Services deem this situation to be unacceptable and are actively introducing measures to combat the problem of spam.

Towards the end of last year the University saw a sharp increase in the amount of spam received, reflecting a significant growth in spam on the Internet, mainly caused by the use of aggressive new techniques of spammers worldwide. Indeed, 2006 saw a rapid escalation of spam activity, with annual average spam levels reaching 86.2 percent; of the hundreds of thousands of email messages coming into the University daily only 1 in 7 is legitimate.

IT Services are responsible for the systems that scan incoming email for viruses, bad and unwanted attachments and spam. In the case of spam a number of techniques and tools are used to assess the likelihood of an email being spam, with each email being scored and tagged before being delivered to a user's mailbox (usually in the spam folder). Spam is not deleted centrally as the tools employed are not foolproof. Indeed, while receiving spam is an irritation, not receiving legitimate email (which is mistakenly tagged as spam) could result in a serious problem from a business perspective.

With the increasing levels of spam and the sophistication of spammers, the University has seen a steady rise in the amount of spam evading detection and consequently being delivered to users' mailboxes. A particular problem is the 'embedded text in image' type (where spam is used to promote penny stocks/shares, part of what is know as 'pump and dump' fraud). IT Services have been trialling a technique known as 'greylisting' to combat increasing amounts of all types of spam. New servers, with greylisting switched on, have recently been commissioned and are now handling mail sent to old VUM and UMIST addresses (e.g. John.Smith@umist.ac.uk). Early indications are that greylisting is successfully reducing the amount of spam sent to these addresses. Greylisting will be extended next week (wk/b 22 January) to all addresses, including manchester.ac.uk. This switchover will be transparent to end users.

IT Services are committed to combating spam and will continue to investigate and implement, when necessary, new tools and techniques to counter the problem of spam email.

For help with dealing with spam please contact your local IT service desk. For contact details, see:

Mike Taylor
Head of Internet Services

Mike.Taylor@manchester.ac.uk