What’s up with the new spam blocker?

Last week, members of the Swarthmore community should have noticed a change in their e-mail inboxes: less spam. The college used to use the open-source SpamAssassin filter to keep viruses and spam at bay, but Fran Gelfland, Unix Systems Administrator for Swarthmore College, explained that a group of ITS staff from TriCo “chose to jointly purchase the McAfee SMS service so that we could provide an improved email service to the entire TriCo community.”

Gelfland described McAfee’s spam and virus detection process as “more advanced than the techniques we had been using. In addition to spam and virus identification, the system is able to identify many phishing or identity theft attempts.” In addition to identifying spam based on the content of the message, “the McAfee SMS system uses network-based techniques… because McAfee provides a service to many customers, each customer benefits from the shared threat identification system. If a networked computer is participating in a spam attack against one customer, the entire pool of customers can be protected once the malicious computer has been identified.”

The McAfee system summarizes all of the blocked e-mail in a “Quarantine Summary” sent out nightly. When McAfee identifies a virus, the message is deleted automatically, but when e-mail is identified as spam, you will have a chance to see whether it was misidentified. As one example, legitimate e-mail from Facebook was initially dentified as spam by the program. “We have heard feedback from students about Facebook e-mail,” explained Gelfland, “and have added the Facebook e-mail to a college-wide Approved Senders list.” Although ITS “can rarely predict what legitimate email might be identified as spam… we will make system adjustments that will help the college community as we get more feedback.”

Other e-mails incorrectly marked as spam included an e-mail about the Dash for Cash sent out by the rugby team and a Daily Gazette article about the history of queer chalkings at Swarthmore. These were presumably marked as spam by the McAfee software due to a default setting that quarantines “sexually explicit” and “racially insensitive” messages.

In order to control your individual settings, you can go to http://www.swarthmore.edu/its/mcafee-sms/docs. Some of the options available include adding e-mail addresses to your individual “approved” or “blocked” lists, and tweaking the specific filters for “sexually explicit,” “racially insensitive,” “get rich quick,” and “special offers” to be either more lenient or more aggressive. You could even opt out of the spam-blocking service entirely, but Gelfland cautions that “we do not recommend opting out, as this will result in no spam protection.”

We might not be able to tell you how to get rich quick or reverse the aging process, but we’ll give it our best shot when you Ask the Gazette at dailygazette [at] swarthmore [dot] edu.


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