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UC-Berkeley e-mail users battle spam onslaught
[July 05, 2006]

UC-Berkeley e-mail users battle spam onslaught

(Comtex Business Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) BERKELEY, Calif., Jul 05, 2006 (Daily Californian, U-WIRE via COMTEX) --Every day, University of California-Berkeley senior political science and history major Stephen Sanders gets about 150 spam e-mail messages in his CalMail inbox, all trying to sell him things like stock tips, erection enhancing drugs and cell phones.

Sanders is not alone, as many of the 68,000 CalMail account-holders fight an endless battle with spam on a daily basis.

Where exactly spammers get student e-mail addresses is unclear.

Many students say that they reserve their CalMail e-mail accounts for official purposes only.

"I only use it for school-related things," UC Berkeley senior sociology major Aromy Xayasouk said. "I can't really think of anything I may have done to induce it."

But spammers have proven to be increasingly creative, "harvesting" e-mail addresses from mailing lists, Web sites and online white and yellow pages with complex software programs called spiders and Web-bots.

"Spammers are always one step ahead of us," said CalMail Consulting Staff Supervisor Bernie Rossi.

Certain spiders and Web-bots can track the e-mail addresses of virtually anyone who uses an account, Rossi said.

Spammers may also turn to Facebook, the popular social networking Web site that lists thousands of student e-mail addresses, as many students allow anyone in the Berkeley network to view their profiles and contact information.

"We don't have any knowledge of any large-scale spamming effort occurring based off of information spammers have gotten from Facebook," said Facebook spokesperson Chris Hughes in an e-mail.

Yet Facebook is still attempting to protect against any possible spamming attempts.

"We show e-mail addresses as images on the site in order to prevent them from being easily harvested," Hughes said.

Students said they felt the CalMail filter is fairly efficient when it comes to catching spam.

"CalMail filters out most of them into the spam folder," Sanders said, "but a few of the more clever ones seem to get through."

UC Berkeley senior molecular and cell biology major David Nguyen agreed.

"CalMail prevents spam pretty well," he said. "Now and then some spam may get through."

Although there is no way to block spam altogether, Rossi said CalMail users can opt to make the spam filter "a little tighter."

All e-mails received by CalMail are rated with a probability of being spam by screening the e-mails for certain keywords.

By default, the system only filters messages that are rated at 70 percent likelihood or above, but Rossi said that students can reduce the amount of spam that goes to their in-boxes by about 20 percent by decreasing the spam threshold to 50 percent.

There are also other ways to fight spam, Rossi said.

"We do have a way to 'teach' the spam filters, which helps them catch the spam," he said.

Although many students said they had faith in the CalMail filter, some say they are still getting floods of unwanted emails.

"(Spam) might be useful to some people, but honestly, not to me," Xayasouk said. "As of today I have 194 pieces of spam even though I emptied my spam folder out a couple days ago. It gets ridiculous."

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