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Dealing with Spam

Note: Reed is adopting Gmail. Incoming students will be using Gmail by default while current students can choose to migrate now. Faculty and staff can migrate after commmencement. The information below is intended for those using the old IMAP system which will soon be phased out. Learn more about the migration to Gmail.

Spam is annoying and ubiquitous. Reed takes an aggressive approach to reducing the amount of spam that you receive. There are also a number of steps you can take to tailor your experience to your personal preferences. These include:

Introduction

The vast majority of spam sent to Reed is rejected before it gets to your mailbox. For an overview of steps Reed takes to weed out spam, see http://web.reed.edu/cis/help/imap/spam_details.html.
 
Remaining email is scored for spam characteristics, using a program called SpamAssassin. Higher scores are given to messages that are more likely to be spam. You can use filters to file or discard email based on SpamAssassin scores. You can also “blacklist” known spam sources if their mail is getting by your filters, and you can “whitelist” sources of legitimate email to make sure that their email doesn’t get accidentally tagged as spam.

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Customizing your spam filters

Filters are rules that your email program can use to automatically take actions based on the contents of inbound email messages. We recommend that you set up all your filters on Reed’s servers, using the Filters feature in Webmail. These filters will then work no matter how you read your email.

Modern email programs like Thunderbird and Apple Mail have their own, built-in spam detection, called “Junk mail” controls. We recommend that you do NOT use these controls, but instead use Reed’s system and the server-based filters described here. Server-based detection is more robust. Using both systems won’t help much and can be confusing.

Reed’s default filters (which you will have unless you changed them yourself) are as follows:

  • Email with a score lower than 6 is delivered to your Inbox.
  • Email scoring 6 or higher is delivered to your spam mailbox.

You can see the SpamAssassin score of an email by viewing the full headers and looking for a line that starts with “X-Spam-Score”. (Messages that score very low won’t have this line.)

Example 1: Lowering the spam threshold

There is a gray area where some legitimate email and some spam have similar scores. If you are seeing too much spam in your Inbox, you can try lowering the score needed to have a message sent to your spam mailbox. In this example we’ll lower the threshold from 6 to 5.
  1. Login to Webmail at https://webmail.reed.edu.
  2. Click on the Settings tab on the top right.
    Vacation/Filters
  3. In the Filters & Vacation column, click the Spam link.
  4. The default Spam filter should look like this:

    Default SPAM rule

  5. Reduce the number from 6 to 5.
  6. Click on the Save button at the bottom to save the filter.

Example 2: Automatically discarding higher-scoring spam

Reed throws away spam that scores over 20. In this example we’ll set up a filter to discard all mail scoring over 15.

  1. Login to Webmail at https://webmail.reed.edu.
  2. Click on the Settings tab on the top right.
    Vacation/Filters
  3. On the Filters & Vacation column, click the Spam link.
  4. In the Filter name: field, enter a name for your new filter, such as "High-Score Spam".
  5. In the For incoming mail: area, select the radio button next to matching any of the following rules.
  6. Change the drop-down menu on the left from Subject to the ellipsis "...".
  7. In the blank field between the two drop-down menus, enter the following text, including the hyphens: X-Spam-Score
  8. In the drop-down menu to the right, select value is greater than or equal to.
  9. In the blank field to the right, enter 15.
  10. In the ...execute the following actions: area, make sure the left drop-down menu is set to Move message to.
  11. Set the right drop-down menu to Spam. (Note: if you do not see Spam as an option here, it means you need to recreate your spam folder. Contact your support department for help; contact information is here.)
  12. Make sure the Filter disabled checkbox is UNchecked.
  13. Click Save.

Example 3: Automatically discarding all suspected spam

This is a risky course of action—it is quite likely that some legitimate email will score over 6. But if you are willing to risk this and never want to look through your spam, you can do it.

  1. Login to Webmail at https://webmail.reed.edu.
  2. Click on the Settings tab on the top right.
    Vacation/Filters
  3. On the Filters & Vacation column, click the Spam link.
  4. In the ...execute the following actions: area, set the drop-down menu to Delete message.
  5. Make sure the Filter disabled checkbox is UNchecked.
  6. Click Save.

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Blacklisting and whitelisting

Whitelists allow you to keep a message from being discarded. For example, you might sign up for a daily list of specials from a website. SpamAssassin might give these messages a high score, even though to you they aren’t actually spam. You can still leave your spam filters in place, but place the "From" address for these messages in your whitelist to insure that the messages stay in your Inbox. Blacklists are just the opposite; messages from addresses in your blacklist are discarded even if they get low spam scores. Note that both whitelists and blacklists work only on the actual email address, not on the sender’s name.

Example: Whitelisting an address

Apple offers an email alert service for updates to their knowledge base. Sometimes these emails score over 6, but we want them to stay in our Inbox. These emails are always sent from the address “kbchanges@apple.com”. Blacklisting works just the same way.

    1. Login to Webmail at https://webmail.reed.edu.
    2. Click on the Settings tab on the top right.
      Vacation/Filters
    3. At the bottom of the Filters & Vacation column, click the plus + sign button to create a new, blank filter. Blank fields will now appear in the Filter definition area, to the right of the Filters & Vacation column.
    4. In the Filter name: field, enter a name for your new filter, such as "Whitelist".
    5. In the For incoming mail: area, select the radio button next to matching any of the following rules.
    6. Change the drop-down menu on the left from Subject to From
    7. In the drop-down menu to the right, select contains
    8. In the blank field to the right, enter the email address you want to whitelist
  1. To add multiple addresses, click the little "+" button on the right and follow steps 7-9
  2. In the ...execute the following actions: area, make sure the left drop-down menu is set to Move message to.
  3. Set the right drop-down menu to Inbox.
  4. Make sure the Filter disabled checkbox is UNchecked.
  5. Click Save button at the bottom to save changes to your whitelist.
  6. In the Filters & Vacation column, click on the Whitelist  you just created and drag it to the top of the list. This step is important because filters are processed in the order in which they are listed.

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Setting expiration preferences

Email in your spam folder can fill up your quota quickly. By default this email will be automatically deleted after 30 days. You can check your settings and change them (and also set an automatic deletion for your Trash folder, if you so desire) by visiting https://myinfo.reed.edu and clicking on "Spam and Trash Expiration".


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Unsubscribing from unwanted email lists

Many organizations use email for marketing, newsletters, and so on. It is easy to wind up on these lists unintentionally. Online queries or purchases that require you to enter your email address often have a checkbox where you can sign up for “updates” or “special offers”, and it is often checked by default. Most legitimate businesses don’t want to annoy you, however, and will honor your request to be removed from the list (or “opt out”). If you get such unwanted email from a company you’ve done business with, look for the “unsubscribe me” link in the email. This is required by Federal law.


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Reporting spam

You can report spam that makes it into your Inbox by following these instructions. It is particularly helpful for us to get reports of legitimate email which has been wrongly tagged as spam (so-called “ham”).

If you have other questions or concerns please contact Computer User Services.


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