Technology Today is devoted to issues related to technology at the University of St. Thomas. It is a joint effort of Computing and Communication Services, Instructional Support Services and the university libraries. Please send your comments to tech_column@stthomas.edu.

Recently, St. Thomas computer users have been receiving unsolicited commercial e-mail (known to many Internet users as “spam”). Annoying as junk e-mail is, there are currently no laws that prevent people from sending unsolicited e-mail to whomever they choose. (Sending such e-mail from a university account is a violation of the Acceptable Use Policy and will not be tolerated, but there are plenty of e-mail providers with lower standards.)

Junk e-mail is difficult to deal with for several reasons. Propagators of these messages typically use mailing lists with no valid return address, so that when you try to air your displeasure, the message bounces back. Why not block the offending sites? Some system administrators do that, but the junk e-mailers just use different Internet e-mail servers to relay their mail before it arrives at its final destination. As soon as we would block one off, more mail would come from another. Finally, these messages typically have randomly generated characters in the From, To and Subject fields, making filtering another ineffective solution.

How is St. Thomas responding? We are looking into the possibility of using Black Hole filters for incoming mail. A Black Hole list is maintained by an independent organization on the Internet and contains addresses of e-mail servers that will allow anyone to send or relay mail through them. This will not completely stop spam, but it may reduce it.

What can you do? Forward any spam you receive to abuse@stthomas.edu, then delete it. Do not reply or try to send any message to the sender; in many cases, such responses — even “unsubscribe” messages — are used to determine that your address is “live,” and increase the flow of junk. If you have questions, e-mail abuse@stthomas.edu or call the CCS Help Desk at (651) 962-6230.