Weird Al Yankovic once wrote a parody of R.E.M.’s “Stand.” The chorus went, “Spam in the place where I live. . . Spam in the place where I work,” and while he sang it about the meat product, the same could be said about the ubiquity of unsolicited e-mail.
Rates of spam e-mail have risen to unprecedented levels in the past few months, with some professional analyses showing spikes from 50 to 80 percent in the U.S. While cultural factors-the holiday shopping season and midterm elections-played a role in the increase, most of the swell comes from increasingly sophisticated spam technology, said Greg Ashley, associate chief information officer at UGA.
The university’s e-mail server, UGAmail, is flooded with 3 million messages per day, with about half of them instantly recognized and discarded as spam, Ashley said. Of the remaining 1.6 million average messages per day, another million are tagged through special filters that send those message to junk mail folders, leaving the amount of legitimate e-mails at 20 percent.
With the recent upswing, Ashley said UGA is fast-tracking two new programs that could become implemented in the coming months to decrease the number of unwanted messages.
UGA employees and students can do a number of things to help cut down on the amount of spam received, he said. That includes not publishing your e-mail address in newsgroups and chatrooms, not giving the UGA address to businesses who will sell it to spammers and using the filters already in place on UGAmail. The Web site is frequently updated with news and information about how to control and prevent spam on university accounts.
So what is this new spam technology? According to Ashley, programs called botnets can invade unprotected computers and turn them into spam-sending machines without the owner’s knowledge.
But help is on the way. Information specialists at UGA are currently testing new programs, which for security and viability concerns, must be carefully vetted before going online. UGA also has assembled a task force of information technology professionals to conduct a review of peer and aspirant educational institutions and to work with information security companies such as Gartner to recommend further spam reduction options and tactics. “We’re never going to be done with it, but I am confident we can get it down lower than it is now,” Ashley said. “But it’s a never-ending battle.”