IT@Cornell News
IT@Cornell News

Beginning-of-semester increase in junk email

As often happens at the beginning of the academic year, students and the entire Cornell community may be seeing an increase in junk email, or spam. In addition to the issues we’ve written about in the past that are related to surges in spam activity, two other factors may be at play.

First, spammers know that at this time of the year, people receive much more email that comes from unfamiliar, but legitimate, sources. The spammers are hoping to capitalize on the confusion caused by this situation to increase the odds their message will be mistaken for authentic email.

Second, based on observations made by email teams at other universities, spammers may have created some new tricks to get around existing spam filters. Until those tricks are identified and blocked, there will be an increase in the amount of spam that gets through. Once they are blocked, less spam will get through, until the next time the spammers find a new trick, then the cycle will continue.

While preparing for the new semester, the Cornell Office 365 Email Team set up some new barriers to help reduce the amount of spam seen by university faculty, students, and staff. Unfortunately, since a balance is at play, when an improvement is made that more frequently correctly identifies spam, those same more stringent settings can be more likely to mistake legitimate email for spam. In this case, some email from the university to students was ending up the the students’ junk mail folders. Once it became apparent this was happening, the change was undone so that students would see their university communications, but this also brought back an increase in spam.

IT@Cornell is focused on achieving the best balance between delivering wanted email and blocking or junk-filing spam. Because spammers see the Cornell community as an attractive target, they constantly innovate new ways to trick systems designed to keep them out. There is an ongoing competition in this area and sometimes their new approach works temporarily, until a way is found to block it. Then they work on finding a new trick.

For more information about junk email and what you can do to get the setting that’s right for you, please see:
If you have any questions, please contact the IT Service Desk: 

Thank you,
Cornell Office 365 Email Team

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