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Internet Snacks

Forbidden Fruit: Chain Letters

By Robert Lagas

If you read the Internet Diet article, you probably remember that sending or forwarding chain letters via email is not an authorized activity. Some people don't understand why they shouldn't be able to send email chain letters; everyone should understand after reading this article. On the surface, it may appear that there is very little, if any, cost associated with sending a chain letter to several people using your office email system, especially if all the recipients are NIH employees. Don't we pay a fixed rate for the phone lines that carry the messages? So how can a few more messages hurt anything?

The real issue is that NIH email and Internet services are for government use in support of the NIH mission. Use of NIH network systems to send and forward chain letters and other inappropriate messages is prohibited. They are also illegal if they ask for money or anything else of value. There are also very practical reasons for prohibiting email chain letters; consider the following: if a letter is sent to 1,000 people, each person who receives it may spend 5 minutes reading it and deleting or forwarding it. If any of the people report it to their information systems security officer (ISSO), that is an additional message transmission and probably half an hour of ISSO time to advise the person who reported it. Often the ISSO will brief that person's supervisor, which will take up his/her time and maybe another email message. Most email systems store the incoming and outgoing messages on a server hard drive. Storing a thousand messages takes up a lot of hard drive space. Transmission of the messages reduces the availability of the system for other messages that are official business, and could require additional capacity to provide adequate facilities to handle all of the traffic. More information on chain letters can be obtained at the following Web sites: and

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