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September 7, 1998

CATS account users targeted by 'junk' e-mail

By Francine Tyler

Want a college diploma without studying? Need a little extra help attracting women? These two things and more were promised by e-mail messages sent to campus addresses earlier this month.

Communications and Technology Services (CATS) blocked 4,000 copies of these messages, known as "unsolicited commercial e-mail" or, more commonly as "Spam." Nevertheless, an undetermined number reached campus desktops before CATS could react.

"Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens more often than we'd like it to," said Robin Ove, manager of CATS' Information Resource Center. "It's a way of life on the Internet."

The two messages that arrived on campus desktops earlier this month are indicative of a growing problem on the Internet: Junk e-mail is increasing as the number of companies providing access to the Internet grows and the technology to send it becomes easier to obtain and use.

CATS battles Spam in several ways, said network engineer Jim Warner. A filter installed on the CATS mail server rejects messages from specific addresses known to send mass mailings. The CATS server also checks the addresses of the e-mail it receives with the Internet's name server--a phone book of sorts for official e-mail addresses--and if the name isn't registered, the message is rejected.

Messages like the two sent recently to CATS account holders are harder to detect, said Warner, because each was sent from a new account that the sender bought to use for the mailing.

The sender used a standard "dial-up" account at AT&T Canada to send the first batch of messages, Warner explained. After UCSC blocked the AT&T account, the sender switched to Sprint Canada to send the second barrage.

"If (the junk e-mail) is a one-shot deal that hits once and then goes away, by the time you try to slam the door it's too late," he said.

Ove asks people who receive unwanted commercial e-mail to "report the abuse to CATS, then just delete it and get on with their day." (Send e-mail to abuse@cats.ucsc.edu to report unwanted e-mail.)

Students, faculty, and staff who receive unwanted e-mail should not retaliate against the sender or reply to the message, Ove added.

Students, faculty, and staff can also do their part to eliminate unwanted e-mail on campus by being careful what they send out and pass on to other users, Ove said. E-mail trees can potentially be a problem if they aren't developed and maintained properly (see CATS' guidelines).

For more information about unsolicited commercial e-mail, go to CATS' fall 1997 newsletter or read CATS' Answers to Frequently Asked Questions sheet on appropriate use of e-mail.

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