NIU, ITS take initiative in battle against spam

By Matthew Rainwater

DeKALB | On August 10, NIU modified its spam-scanning software CanIt-Pro, a move officials hope will reduce spam in NIU mailboxes.

This is the final planned step in NIU’s spam-prevention strategy. The new adjustment will reduce the number of “false negatives,” or spam messages that were not properly identified, in the system. This modification will also generate the minimal number of “false positives,” or messages that CanIt intercepts which aren’t spam.

This action means there should be fewer spams e-mails going into NIU mailboxes, with a slightly increased possibility that some ‘good’ e-mails could be blocked.

“There is always a risk that some mail that is wanted doesn’t get through the filters,” said Elizabeth Leake, associate director for Information Technology Services. “There is a trade-off. The more aggressive we become in fighting spam, the more casualties there will be along the way. However, the benefits far outweigh the risks in terms of saved productivity and technology health.”

The increased risk of infection due to virus-laden content and the cost to the university in handling unwanted mail are the motivating factors behind the modification. Since the software update, NIU’s acceptable spam scores were lowered from six to five. The major difference resulting from lower spam scores will be that fewer unwanted messages will arrive in e-mail accounts, with fewer viruses and worms received, Leake said.

“Spam filtering looks at the characteristics of messages, their subject lines and attachments,” Leake said. “It compares these qualities to variables that are [indicative] of spam. ITS can raise or lower the threshold of how many of these characteristics we will tolerate.”

On August 10, ITS imposed filters that were less tolerant of spam-type indicators, she said. In response to customer feedback, ITS reduced one of the filters on August 30 because too many legitimate messages were being filtered.

“[There are] best practices for prevention at the user-level,” Leake said. “Be careful who you give your e-mail address to. Don’t use your alias, or any name-related e-mail address. Instead, use your full context, for example,, or Never reply to unwanted mail. Sending a nasty reply may help you to feel momentarily vindicated, but it only increases the likelihood that you will receive even more spam. Check the Web site for best practices as they relate to managing spam.”

Matthew Rainwater is a Campus Reporter for the Northern Star.