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OIT alerts community as spam fills inboxes

Jen Rowling | Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Spam mail, in the form of bank and company impersonators, has been infesting e-mail boxes of members of the Notre Dame community in recent weeks, some soliciting personal and credit card information and then scamming customers.The Office of Information Technologies (OIT) alerts students and faculty when OIT receives new spam or virus threats.”This is not just a scare. People have been victimized by this problem,” said Gary Dobbins, director of information security at OIT. He said he was unable to release the names of specific individuals who were targeted by the scams.Notre Dame Security/Police (NDSP) had one such case reported March 9, according to the NDSP crime blotter.OIT does not interfere with mail delivery to campus Webmail users, but in order to lessen the reoccurring problem of spam mail, the technology center provides access to filters for the Notre Dame community.”People would like not to receive spam mail, and have [OIT] block it,” said Dobbins. “It is a very tricky thing to do and not to jeopardize legitimate mail.”Dobbins said that spam does not leak into the system; rather, the mail server at Notre Dame receives e-mails and does not discriminate. “[OIT’s] principal job is to deliver mail addressed to you,” Dobbins said.Numerous companies have been impersonated through spam, including EBay, Amazon, and Key Bank. Spam mail has also appeared in the form of a charity donation page such as the well-known UNICEF donation for Tsunami relief, Dobbins said.”I received something that was supposed to be from EBay,” sophomore Teresa Kolf said. “It asked to verify my account including my credit card info. I might have thought it was real if I had not called my brother.”There are some guidelines to recognize spam messages, Dobbins said.Most legitimate bank e-mails do not ask for information such as pin numbers or account numbers, he said. An authentic bank e-mail will state a specific reason for the contact. “A clear sign is if the page the link takes you to asks for information a bank already knows about you,” said Dobbins.When the filter that OIT provides for Webmail users receives an e-mail, it places a score in the header, Dobbins said. The greater the number of stars an email receives, the more likely the message is to be spam. Webmail users can allocate the number of stars necessary to recognize spam mail. Individuals can then choose for the illicit mail to be placed in a spam folder or to be automatically deleted. Junior Angela Piccione received an e-mail asking her to verify an account overseas. At the time, she was unaware of the filter opportunity. “It should be better publicized,” she said. “I would have liked to know about it so I would not get an e-mail about an account I do not even have overseas.”Dobbins said that users should move the mail to a folder, to prevent non-spam emails from being accidentally deleted.”A filter won’t always classify all spam as spam and could mistakenly classify legitimate mail as spam,” he said.OIT offers sessions in the fall to learn about computer protection. An online test is also offered for users who would like to test their ability to differentiate spam mail from legitimate mail.”Threats change all the time,” Dobbins said. “We try to provide general advice to help you recognize new threats before we can tell you about the specifics.”