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Stop SPAM! New E-mail Defense System Is On the Way

June 14, 2005

As Northwestern continues to increase e-mail security and protection against the proliferation of computer viruses, worms, and other forms of malicious code, Information Technology (IT) recently launched the first phase of the new E-mail Defense System (EDS).

The e-mail filtering system scans all incoming Northwestern e-mail for virus threats before it is delivered to the University's central e-mail servers (casbah, hecky, lulu, and merle).

During the summer, IT will continue testing the EDS junk e-mail filter in preparation for its fall launch. Likewise, University-wide training sessions will be announced and rolled out in conjunction with the launch to help users become familiar with the features, which include customized block- and safe-lists.

EDS is designed to complement the recommended antivirus software and personal firewalls installed on personal and departmental computers throughout the University.

Prior to selecting the new system, an evaluation team of Northwestern community members benchmarked the product, which is currently used with great success by the University of Chicago and Purdue University. According to Wendy Woodward, director of Technology Support Services, the team also addressed University-wide priorities related to e-mail defense and overwhelmingly approved of its performance.

IT stresses that some junk e-mail may still get to your inbox after EDS is implemented and that individual users are empowered to fight junk e-mail and viruses on their own as well. For assistance with computer security and setting up local junk e-mail filtering, go to IT's "Get Control" web site at http://www.it.northwestern.edu/5steps/.

Here are answers to some common questions about EDS.

How does the system identify viruses?

EDS uses antivirus definitions much like the antivirus software installed on users' personal computers. Messages that are identified as viruses are blocked from delivery to the mail servers.

If IT already filters for viruses, why would I need to run antivirus software?

Although IT has installed virus protection software on Northwestern's central e-mail servers, it recommends individuals continue to run antivirus software on their local machines as well. Multiple methods should be used to guard against attacks. If one method fails or is compromised, a second system provides another layer of defense.

How does the system identify junk e-mail?

EDS contains several hundred junk e-mail tests that analyze individual characteristics of each message. Each test has a numerical weight. When EDS analyzes and weighs a message, it creates a junk e-mail score that expresses the message's "junk e-mail probability." The higher the probability rating, the more likely the e-mail is marked junk mail.

What happens to the junk e-mail?

It will be safely diverted — placed in an isolated location on the network — for the recipient to access and review at any time. Junk e-mail is not read by anyone other than the recipient. An e-mail digest that contains a list of junk e-mails will be sent to each user daily during off-peak hours. Users will be able to have these messages sent to their inbox or deleted entirely. In addition, users will have the ability to customize what gets diverted to ensure that desired e-mails are delivered appropriately.

What if I don't want to participate in the program?

EDS will be implemented on an automatic, University-wide opt-out basis for users on one of the central e-mail servers. However, users who prefer not to participate will be able to remove themselves by following simple instructions that will be made available closer to implementation.

For more information on the e-mail defense system, go to http://www.it.northwestern.edu/ or contact your local technical support individual. Contact the IT Support Center at 847-491-HELP or consultant@northwestern.edu.

Topics: University News