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Sick of 'Junk' Email? Hit the Delete Key

By Cheryl Seaman and Kevin Haney

It's beginning to be just like home; the mail arrives — three bills, two letters, tons of junk mail — and now it's happening at work. An increasing volume of unwanted emails, spam (mass mailings) and chain letters, a.k.a. junk email, is insidiously invading your electronic mailbox. NIH users are finding, commingled with the work-related messages, all sorts of unwanted mail, in particular, e-commerce solicitations (e.g., real estate services, computer sales, online publications), chain letters and virus hoaxes, and many of these urge recipients to forward multiple copies.

What can you do? Hit the delete key and get on with your life. Junk mail might be annoying, but don't respond to these messages and don't participate in disseminating them. Forwarding such messages is prohibited because it leads to a geometrical increase in their circulation, network congestion and may impede the routing of legitimate email messages. In addition, forwarding lends your name and the NIH reputation to a message, and gives it the appearance of authenticity. To avoid being a target for unwanted email, do not post your NIH email address on a web site or to forums, chat rooms, mailing lists or newsgroups. Be aware that in most cases, your name and email address are available to any web site you visit.

Report to your information systems security officer (ISSO) only those messages where there is a perceived legitimate warning, suspected illegal activity or child pornography. The infamous "Love Bug" and "AnnaKournikova" email viruses taught NIH users a valuable lesson — it is wise not to open attachments from someone unless you know what the attachment is and that you requested it. In particular, be wary of any attachments with executable file names, e.g., "*.exe" or "*.vbs". Additional guidance is available through your ISSO and the CIT Security web site at http://securitynews.nih.gov/security/spam.htm.

At present, there is no magic bullet solution that will filter all unwanted email. Although CIT is exploring mechanisms that will block unwanted email centrally, those who send spam change their address frequently. As a result, messages blocked today may not be blocked tomorrow. For the time being, the delete key is quick, cheap and effective. Go ahead and use it.

And if you haven't been there yet, check out http://securitynews.nih.gov. It's the web site where general users go to find straight talk on computer security issues, including the latest news on serious virus alerts at NIH.


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