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University of Iowa News Release

Oct. 22, 2004

UI To Implement More Robust Spam-Blocking Software Nov. 15

Once upon a time, spam was merely an annoyance. A computer user could simply delete the two or three unsolicited email messages she received offering miracle drugs, millions of dollars from some foreign bank account or the promise of a perfect stranger's abiding affection.

Today, though, the sheer volume of junk emails bombarding government and company servers can bog them down or crash them. And some spam serves as cargo containers for viruses that can steal or destroy important data.

To deal with the growing threat to productivity and privacy, the University of Iowa's Information Technology Services group next month will implement an improved anti-spam service that it hopes will drastically reduce the volume of unwanted emails UI computer users receive. The system will take effect beginning Nov. 15.

The UI currently receives about 300,000 individual email messages every day, nearly half of it spam. That's a roughly 30 percent increase in spam activity since last year, and UI officials expect the trend to continue.

"The university already employs many layers of anti-virus and anti-spam protection," Lance Bolton of ITS Campus Services said in an email to students, faculty and staff announcing the upgraded spam-fighting measures. "But unrelenting electronic attacks and solicitations are requiring us to strengthen our email security practices."

Currently, ITS servers automatically flag suspected spam by inserting the pound symbol -- # -- into the subject field. The spam software, PureMessage by Sophos, adds the term "spam?#" at the beginning of the subject line for messages with greater than 50 percent probability of being spam. Multiple pound symbols are inserted as the spam probability increases. Computer users can then create filters that automatically delete these messages as they arrive in their personal inboxes.

With the new system, ITS servers will reject emails that have a probability greater than or equal to 99 percent of being spam -- before they reach an individual's inbox. Individuals now have the option of setting the spam-blocking threshold higher or lower via a self-service web page.

More information about the new anti-spam system may be found at http://www.its.uiowa.edu/cs/email/nospam.html.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Lance Bolton, ITS, 319-335-6158, lance-bolton@uiowa.edu; Writer: Stephen Pradarelli, 319-384-0007, stephen-pradarelli@uiowa.edu