Dealing with spam at MIT
February 13, 2018
Robyn Fizz
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Image: Bigstock / Olivier Le Moal

Got email? Then you’ve seen more than your share of unwanted messages, otherwise known as spam. But what you get in your inbox just scratches the surface. Behind the scenes, filtering services have spared you countless folders-worth of spam.

For incoming email at MIT, Information Systems and Technology (IS&T) uses Symantec Messaging Gateway (SMG). Here’s a look at how the Symantec service works and ways to customize it.

SMG first blocks email from known bad senders before it reaches MIT’s email infrastructure. (Over 90% of the email SMG blocks is the result of preventing the spammer’s mail server from even connecting to MIT.) To ensure effectiveness, Symantec’s Global Intelligence Network continually responds to new spam threats.

SMG next identifies spam and suspected spam through a series of tests; it then sends this email to the Spam Quarantine Server. If you have an MIT email address, you’ll get a daily quarantine summary in your inbox from SpamQuarantine@mit.edu.

If you think an email in your quarantine summary is legitimate, you can view it and opt to release it. It will then be transferred to your inbox. If you do nothing, Symantec automatically deletes messages in your Spam Message Quarantine after 14 days.

Another option is to log in to SMG to view your current list of quarantined messages. Here you can read the full text of these messages, release any that are legitimate, and quickly delete the rest using the Delete All button.

Bad and Good Senders

You can go a step further when logged in by adding email addresses to your Bad Senders and Good Senders lists. If you get repeated spam from a given sender, you can designate that person as a bad sender and you’ll no longer get mail from them in your inbox.

Note: Much of what people think of as spam is actually marketing material they legitimately opted-in or failed to opt-out of when signing up for or purchasing something. Instead of adding those addresses to your Bad Senders list, IS&T recommends that you opt out of the marketing emails.

Conversely, if you’d like emails from a specific sender in your quarantine summary to be delivered directly to your inbox, you can add that sender’s address to your Good Senders list. However, IS&T doesn’t recommend this option unless a legitimate sender tends to send spam-like messages. Since spammers can spoof senders’ addresses, it’s usually best to let SMG scan message content for spamlike characteristics.

In short, be judicious in your use of the Bad Senders and Good Senders options.

Microsoft Outlook’s Junk feature

While Symantec Messaging Gateway is the primary spam filtering service at MIT, Microsoft Outlook also offers a Junk feature on its Home tab, along with a Junk email folder. For instructions on using these, see Get Help on Junk under Outlook’s Help Topics. Lynda.com also offers a short video on “Handling Junk Mail and Rules” inits Office 365: Learning Outlook course.

Support

If you’re curious, Symantec provides a step-by-step technical overview of how it processes email.

If you have questions about spam or about how to use SMG or Outlook’s Junk features, contact the IS&T Service Desk. If you’re concerned that you’ve opened a spam email that may have compromised your device, contact the IS&T Security Team at security@mit.edu or IS&T Security.