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Spam in Mills accounts

Some Mills students have noticed an increased amount of spam in their Mills email accounts in the past few weeks. A new system update, however, may be able to put an end to it.

Marshall Northcott of Mills Computing Services says that he has not run data about how much spam has been getting into the accounts, but he does know that there is a lot coming into mailboxes.

This may change as a result of a new Webmail update that has been recently given to the alumnae community. Mills offers an email account for life to their alumnae, as well as email accounts for staff, faculty and students. Although alumnae use the same Webmail program, it has recently been upgraded with services such as additional spam tagging. The current Webmail program does have spam tagging and a spam folder for each user to utilize.

According to Northcott, this upgrade will be coming to the rest of the Mills community soon. Spam tagging works by labeling an email as spam if it matches certain patterns. The system follows dozens of pattern-matching rules to tag what is spam and what isn’t. Yet, Northcott says, “the spamming industry figures out how to get around the rules.”

Computing Services hoped to get the new Webmail program up this past summer. But, says Northcott, “We had some technical issues.” He says the new goal is to get the system up during winter break. Northcott says with the new version of Webmail, “we can offer better services.”

“We are aggressively researching all approaches that will help [with spam],” he said.

The spam seems to choose users randomly. Freshwoman Mika Rosen says she hasn’t noticed any spam in her Mills account. However, some students have been plagued by spam in their accounts.

Freshwoman Emma Giboney says she never opens the spam she’s sent in her account, but that “it seems like they try to trick me into opening it,” by mentioning things like credit in the subject line. “I don’t like it,” she said. Giboney also noticed that the spam seems to always be sent to a class email list, like her Women’s Studies class.

“Some people still get a lot more (spam) than other people,” Northcott said. According to him, a person’s email address that is up on certain web pages may be more susceptible to spam. However, some spam systems use random patterns in the hopes of getting a valid email address.

Northcott said that Mills has been “conservative” with filtering because they don’t want the system to delete genuine messages. “[The system can] catch a legitimate message and put it in the wrong place,” Northcott said. “We have to be very careful.”