New system prevents spam
Published: Thursday, September 6, 2007
Updated: Saturday, September 19, 2009 14:09
While winning a free computer and promises of other free products made in e-mail messages might seem like opportunities, they are annoyances Marshall e-mail users have had to handle. But, not for much longer with the new spam-filtering system.
Marshall University Computing Services has put the Barracuda spam-filtering system in to effect for all Marshall e-mail users to lower the amount of unwanted messages from reaching e-mail inboxes.
The Barracuda system is comprised of three servers that search for certain words or phrases in e-mail messages that have been defined as spam behaviors.
"We are not the only university that has to outsmart the spammers," Jon Cutler, associate director of systems administration, said. "It is not uncommon to have 2 million messages trying to be sent to the Marshall e-mail server. Less than 5 percent of those messages are 'good' messages."
While a majority of these spam messages are prevented from entering the servers, Cutler said there is a balance that must be obtained to filter out unwanted messages, while still allowing good messages to enter. Barracuda permits this by allowing the user to customize the level of spam they wish to allow to enter his or her inbox.
"The user will be able to set their own levels of tolerance to allow messages to come through," Tim Calvert, lead applications programmer, said. "These rules determine the types of messages the user wants to receive and what will be sent to the quarantine box."
The quarantine box will contain the messages that are filtered out by the user's settings and allow the user to safely preview the message before deciding to permanently delete it.
The Barracuda system also incorporates a Bayesian learning system, which learns what types of messages the user wants to receive and, based on the content of those messages, allows them to come through the filter.
A message is sent daily or weekly to alert users of the messages that are in the quarantine box so they can review them and decide if they are necessary messages.
"We used to allow the user to filter their spam, and it was very unreliable," Calvert said. "Our e-mail system suffered and people left it to use Gmail and Hotmail accounts."
"I use a couple of different e-mail addresses, and I use my Marshall account for school-related business," John Varnier Jr., sophomore biology major from Mount Airy, N.C., said. "During the spring semester, I had a lot of trouble with my Marshall e-mail. It was down all the time and my box was full of messages I did not want. I can definitely tell that something has changed already because I do not get nearly as many junk messages as I did last semester.
"I would love to have a central e-mail address instead of going to different sites to check mail, and with the improvements that are taking place, I want it to be my Marshall address," he said.
Varnier also said he is interested in the new user interaction of setting the threshold levels of spam. He said it is key to present the controls in a way that would be easy to understand.
Cutler said that while Barracuda is in place to restrict blatant spam messages, the system is planned to go public in the next few weeks and give users more control to block spam messages.
Cutler said while there are few instances where good messages are blocked because of their content, users can report these problems to the Help Desk so the sender's messages can be accepted for that individual user.
Brandon Ambrose can be contacted at Brandon.Ambrose@marshall.edu.