Recent increases in spam e-mail annoy students

Meranda Watling

Few four-letter words can evoke scorn and outrage like spam. But everyone gets it, and almost no one likes it.

Jason Wearley, senior system analyst and programmer, said the university received 2.5 million spam or probable spam messages out of 7 million total messages in February alone. And that doesn’t even include the 20 percent of spam messages that don’t make it past the registered black list, a list that automatically blocks mail from known spammers.

Over the last year, Wearley said the amount of spam has grown tremendously.

“It’s just going to get worse,” Wearley said. “A year ago, the number was a lot less. It grew exponentially and will continue to grow exponentially if it goes unchecked.”

Although Wearley said there is no “law of averages” for the amount of spam a person receives, some users are lucky enough to see only a few spam messages per month; others receive a lot more. He said it depends on how they use their account and how common their name is.

Students, who are often on the receiving end of the spam messages, seem forgiving for the spam they get.

Even Tremain Fields, senior criminal justice major, who claims to receive about 1,000 spam e-mails per week — “I’m not exaggerating; I’m sure I’m not exaggerating,” he said. — thinks the university is doing a good enough job blocking spam.

“When you’re expecting an e-mail, yeah it’s annoying,” Fields said. “But it’s nothing to complain to a higher authority about, as long as I get my e-mail.

“I check them all (the e-mail messages in his mail box), and then the ones I do want, I uncheck them,” he said.

Fields said he signs up for everything with his Kent State e-mail address, which is probably why he gets so much spam.

But even students who don’t sign up for anything still get some spam. Junior conservation major Heather Kirkpatrick, for example, says she gets about three to four spam e-mails per week. But after her old e-mail account became bogged down with spam, she quit signing up for things online and said she never has with her Kent State account.

“In my other e-mail account, I used to get like 100-some a day,” she said. “But then I changed it. So compared to that, (what I get now) is a little bit.”

The university does not share e-mail addresses, said Greg Seibert, director of security and compliance. Students complain that they haven’t shared their e-mail with anyone and still get spam, so they assume the university must be selling their information.

Spammers can get that information by mining the Online Phone Directory or by brute force attacks, where spammers just try likely e-mail addresses at a known domain.

Wearley and Seibert decided to test this by setting up two fake e-mails, [email protected] and [email protected]. The username John had previously been used, but Joe was created special for the test. Nobody besides Wearley and Seibert knew about the accounts. Yet, within 10 months Joe is at 98 percent of the quota (15 MB) and John has gone over quota and been reset, since October it is at 90 percent of quota again.

“If you’re really worried about spam, you should restrict your directory information,” Seibert said. “Joe and [email protected], those names were not in the phone book. They were found by brute force. They figured out it doesn’t bounce back, then they share the list.”

The university does use the registered black list and a few other tools to block known spammers, but it doesn’t block all the spam because it doesn’t “want to be the content police,” Seibert said.

“If they want to be spammed by pornographers all day, I say go at it,” he said.

University policy doesn’t allow for spam to be denied based on content, Wearley said. That is why, even though it is known that Kent State averages 55,000 to 60,000 spam messages a day, the university doesn’t do more to stop it.

Administrators are warming up to the idea, Seibert said, in response to the growing problem. He and Wearley are working on several possible solutions to try and slow the problem, including a spam blocker that would quarantine suspected spam messages.

“It’s unfortunate because spam blocking doesn’t address the mission of the university,” Seibert said. “But for quality of life, it looks like we’ll have to do something.”

Contact technology reporter Meranda Watling at [email protected].