Tech Tuesday: IRT offers new spam-reduction service

Tech Tuesday: IRT offers new   spam-reduction service

"Spam,  Spam,  Spam,  Spam ... lovely Spam, wonderful Spam." ("Monty Python's Flying Circus, " BBC, Dec. 15, 1970)

Most people revile spam the electronic kind, not the lunch meat (though there are people who revile that processed meat product, too). Spam, the annoying, undesired e-mail that can quickly fill up an e-mail box with offers to "refinance a mortgage" or "buy cheap prescription drugs," is almost impossible to escape.  Spam has moved quickly from being a minor inconvenience to a potential major disruption for individuals and businesses alike. The University of St. Thomas, keeping step with other universities and industry, has focused its efforts on spam management and is implementing a spam-reduction service for the UST community.      

Managing spam is a careful balancing act. While on one hand we want to stop the spam, at the same time we need to make sure that we aren’t preventing legitimate e-mail from arriving. UST uses MailMarshal, a spam-filtering tool, to block spam before it enters the UST e-mail system. Currently 75 percent (some 375,000 messages per day) of all e-mail is blocked. That is a lot of spam!

How MailMarshal works (the short version): E-mail passing through MailMarshal is scored to determine its "spamminess."   Each characteristic found in an e-mail message that also is found in spam causes a message’s score to increase. When a message’s score reaches a predetermined point level, UST will block that e-mail message. During fall semester you might have noticed a considerable increase in the amount of spam that was getting through the filters. (This was happening everywhere, not just at UST.) Over January Term, MailMarshal made a major update to the spam filter (minor updates usually happen every Monday) and has been able to block much of this insidious spam from your e-mail box. This update seems to have solved the spam problem for a large number of our users; however, it may be a bit early to celebrate; spammers are notorious for creating new and inventive ways of getting into our mailboxes. Consider a couple of factors:

  • E-mail volume has tripled since last year. Last year UST averaged 150,000 messages a day. Today UST is averaging close to 500,000 messages a day.
  • Industrywide, spam comprises almost 80 percent of all e-mail.
  • Educational institutions are more exposed to spam due to their open nature and e-mail addresses that often are made publicly available on Web sites.  

Happily, we are ahead of the spam curve, but the threat of new types of spam is always out there.

New spam reduction service offered

Help is on the way! IRT is starting a service for individuals who would like to decrease the amount of spam they receive. To do this IRT will create an “Opt In” spam-reduction service for those who want to tighten the restrictions on e-mail allowed into their mailboxes. For these people, the MailMarshal point threshold will be lowered, causing MailMarshal to identify more e-mail messages as spam.

Less spam, sounds great but what’s the catch? Based on testing, this service should reduce the amount of spam coming into your e-mail box; however, it is important to note that it also may block some legitimate e-mails that have characteristics often found in spam messages. (Don’t worry; we have a plan for this, too!)

Keep the good e-mails coming: Individuals who opt into the service will receive a daily e-mail, listing what has been blocked.   This e-mail is a summary digest of all of the e-mails that have been blocked since the last time a digest message was received. This will give individuals a quick and easy way to see what was filtered out as “spam.” A nice feature of this e-mail is that it allows you to release a message (if you deem the e-mail to be legitimate). If you want to permanently add the e-mail sender to your approved sender list, you will still need to add their address in MailMarshal.  

A sample MailMarshal Anti-Spam Summary Digest e-mail

Where do I sign up? Signing up for the spam-reduction service is simple. Contact the Tech Desk at or (651) 962-6230 to let them know you want to opt into the spam-reduction service. That’s it.

If you don’t want to participate, you don’t need to do anything. Your e-mail account won't change in any way.

Just like junk mail received at home, spam cannot be completely stopped without risking blocking legitimate e-mail. IRT is committed to finding the appropriate balance acceptable to the UST community. If you have questions or comments about the spam-reduction service or any technology at UST, please contact the Tech Desk, (651) 962-6230.