Two out of three e-mails are nuisances at the least and can be financially debilitating at the most, according to MU’s information technology staff.
As the academic year resumes, information technology employees at MU prepare to keep students and their computers safe from spam and related programs that contain viruses.
“Assume your e-mail address is known and for sale,” said Randy Wiemer, associate director of MU’s information technology department. “The MU campus, including (University Hospital and Clinics) and extension offices, receives between 600,000 and 700,000 e-mails everyday.”
Based upon free and publicly available black lists, the information technology staff blocks approximately 70 percent of incoming mail before it reaches faculty, staff and students.
Often masked with phony sender addresses, harmful e-mail is sometimes difficult to recognize.
Similar to earthquake ratings, computer IP addresses are rated from the highest amount of distributed e-mail to the least. Yahoo, Comcast and Road Runner are rated above 8.0 on that scale. They make up the top three most active sites. The University of Missouri scores a 4.9 — an 8 percent increase since school started last Monday.
“Our system updates us on anti-virus material six times a day,” Wiemer said.
The reason it is updated so often is because spam and other harmful e-mail is continually sent out from around the world.
On Aug. 22, a mass e-mail disguised as a message from Central Bank reached university employees. Even though the actual bank’s logo was used, an attached link sent users somewhere else, where employees were asked for their user names, passwords and pin numbers. Trying to obtain financial information in this manner — using false sites and advertising — is known as phishing.
Awareness is the key to staying free from scams, said Brandon Hough, manager of MU IT security.
“We do our best to educate users, but I know that a couple of people fell victim to the most recent e-mail scam,” Hough said.
As part of the filtering process, IT services label each e-mail from 0 to 9. Messages scoring a 6 or higher are very likely to be spam.
MU computer users can check a privacy and junk e-mail prevention box on their e-mail account to send these messages to their individual junk e-mail folders, where the message will be dumped after 30 days.
Writing programs to obtain e-mail addresses is easy.
“Sources of spam, phishing and viruses originate everywhere,” said Wiemer. “Most of it originates from the United States, but at MU, the majority is from Asia.”
To avoid computer pitfalls, Hough recommends that users exercise caution when downloading material from free sites. Placing the mouse over a link will show users where they are about to visit.
“If in doubt, hit delete,” Hough said.
Spam, viruses and identity theft are possible risks to anyone who uses a computer.
Federal and state laws allow for prosecution of computer spam and virus offenders. However, misuse can be difficult to investigate.
“Identifying a source, finding evidence and educating nontechnological professionals is tough,” said Hough. But, it can be done.