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Sick of Junk Email?

By Cheryl Seaman and Kevin Haney

Work is beginning to seem just like home when the mail arrives — three bills, two letters, tons of junk mail. Commingled with the work-related messages, NIH users are finding an increasing volume of spam (mass mailings) and chain letters, a.k.a. junk email, insidiously invading their electronic mailboxes. All sorts of unwanted mail is being received, e-commerce solicitations (e.g., real estate services, computer sales, online publications), chain letters and virus hoaxes in particular, and many of these messages 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 chain letters is prohibited because it leads to a geometrical increase in their circulation, congesting the network and impeding 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, be aware that in most cases your name and email address are available to any web site, forums, chat rooms, mailing lists or newsgroups you visit. Report to your information systems security officer (ISSO) only those messages where you perceive a legitimate warning, or suspect illegal activity or child pornography. The recent inundation of ILOVEYOU email messages taught NIH users a valuable lesson — it is wise not to open attachments from someone unless you requested it and know what the attachment is. Also, resist the temptation to send virus warning notices to your entire address book — or any other large group of addresses — as this only adds to the flood of messages in an already clogged system. Additional guidance is available through your ISSO and the CIT security web site at http://oirm.cit.nih.gov/security/spam.htm.

At present, there is no silver 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 addresses frequently. As a result, messages blocked today may not be blocked tomorrow. For the time being, the delete key is quick, cheap and effective.


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