Getting the message out about spam

by Der Hupe (Flickr) CC-BY-ND
by Der Hupe (Flickr) CC-BY-ND

Spam is a tasty meat product that comes in a can. It has questionable nutritional value (although some people love it!), but because it stores well in its can it was widely used in the UK after World War II …and that led to it being the butt of British jokes, including a famous comedy sketch in Monty Python’s Flying Circus in which menu items had more and more spam in them until the spam drowned out everything else. (“Would you like spam, eggs, sausage and spam?”)

It’s no surprise that computer geeks enjoy silly humour like Monty Python, so when junk electronic mail started filling up people’s inboxes, it was called spam. Spam has been with us since the beginnings of the internet and it is incredibly pervasive. Experts estimate that more than 70% of all email is spam. And it’s not just email – SMS spam is a rising problem.

Some spam is just annoying, but some comes with dangerous content. Attachments might have computer viruses or other malware embedded in them, endangering your computer. Some spam messages might be phishing scams: posing as a legitimate message but trying to “fish” personal information like account numbers and passwords. Gullible people who fall for such scams might have their bank accounts or credit cards raided for money, or might have their email accounts taken over and used to send out more spam.

by Geralt (Pixabay) license public domain CC0
by Geralt (Pixabay) license CC0 (public domain)

We try to educate all our community about the dangers of spam and phishing scams, but unfortunately a few of our students and staff members have fallen victim to such scams. We have cleaned up their accounts, but this has damaged our mail server’s reputation on the internet. Services that rate mail servers for whether they are legitimate or just spam gateways have marked our address as spammy. This means that much of our email messages are going into people’s junk folders or even getting blocked. We are working to clean up our reputation and get our address “whitelisted” as clean, but until then it’s a problem.

By the way… this isn’t just an ICS problem. Spam is rampant on the internet and affects mail services no matter what they use. (Read this article about a university whose email system got blocked by Google!)

Parents, if you’re not getting ICS email messages, check your junk folder on your mail server. See if there are messages there. If so, mark them as “not spam” and then also add ICS to your “safe senders” list. (Here are some “how-to’s” for various email systems.)

Protect yourself from spam and phishing attacks! Here are two short quizzes designed to help you spot scams in both email messages and websites – see if you can spot all the scams. (When you finish, you’ll be able to see which ones you spotted and which ones you missed, and an explanation of how you can tell something is a scam or not.)

My mantra: THINK before you click!

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