Published April 10, 2019
Spam is a fact of life- an ever-present, frustrating fact of life. And no matter how diligent we are to mark it, block it, and filter it out, it seems like some unwanted email always get through.
Stephen Comings, UBIT Systems Software Manager, manages the sophisticated email systems and filters that block the vast majority of unwanted email sent to the university.
In 2018, Comings says their quarantine blocked 163 million messages—35% of all email coming into the university.
Both Google and Sophos are constantly adjusting their email filtering to keep out spammers. This battle between the filters and the spammers is constantly evolving, and the amount of spam reaching customers' inboxes may vary significantly month to month as a result.
In 2019, the University at Buffalo will be exploring the benefits of new email filtering technologies to protect the UB community. These include email authentication tools like Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM). SPF and DKIM work as authenticators that classify incoming messages as spam.
Despite these advancements, Comings doubts it’s possible to get rid of spam completely. “It seems like we’ll always be hitting the delete key once or twice, in the end,” Comings said.
Part of the problem is that spam is hard to define. “A lot of spam started as something that someone signed up for intentionally,” said Comings. “Either that, or they signed up for something that in turn shared their email with other companies.”
This is what makes spam different from phishing attempts—fraudulent emails with false information designed to collect sensitive personal information.
When all else fails, here are the steps Comings suggests to get rid of remaining spam.
1. Block it
Most email clients and apps have a way to mark a message as junk, and block messages like it from coming to you. You can also create “rules” that filter out likely junk mail (more on this below).
This method doesn’t always work, partly because spammers regularly change their subjects and the address they send from, but over time many email clients can “learn,” with your help, what is spam and what isn’t.
2. Report it
You can report spam directly to the company that provides UB’s intelligent email filtering software. When you get a spam message, forward it as an attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reporting spam doesn’t work right away, but the intelligent software that protects UB email accounts from most spam will use the information you provide to refine its definitions for what is spam. Over time, your input makes it smarter at filtering unwanted mail for everyone.
3. Filter it
When all else fails, Comings suggests taking advantage of email filters and rules to siphon off spam before it makes it to your inbox.
“Depending on the nature of your work at UB, I sometimes recommend filtering any mail coming in from non-UB email addresses to a separate folder,” Comings said. “That way your inbox is much more likely to only be relevant email, since buffalo.edu email addresses are already whitelisted.
“You can always check your non-UB folder later if you’re expecting something from an outside source,” Comings added.
When you get something you want to read from a non-UB email address, you can always add that sender as an exception to the rule you set up, so future messages from them will reach your inbox as intended.
The UBIT website has additional resources for blocking spam, filtering spam and reporting spam. For more information about your UBmail, visit our email service guides. And for help with email or other IT services, contact the UBIT Help Center.