29 April 2003


Filtering email is not as simple as it may appear.

A number of staff have approached the Help Desk to help them reduce the amount of unsolicited email (spam) they receive. Some of the material being received is apparently quite offensive and is of concern to staff. Recently the National Office of the Information Economy (NOIE) submitted a report to the Commonwealth Government on spam and what measures can be taken to reduce it. NOIE's spam page is at http://www.noie.gov.au/projects/confidence/Improving/spam.htm.

[UPDATE June 2006: The NOIE pages have been removed. The Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts now maintains a spam page at http://www.dcita.gov.au/ie/spam_home with some useful material and links.]

Filtering email is fraught with difficulties: if email filters are put in place there is no guarantee that legitimate email will be blocked, or that some spam will still get through. Filters can be installed on the email servers, at a cost of up to $45 per person depending on the solution chosen. Staff can set up filters on their own clients (with varying degrees of success depending on their email client and the settings they put in place), but spammers are constantly changing their techniques to get through any filters that may be put in place: whether the filters are on the servers or in the email clients themselves.

In relation to offensive material, the Vice Chancellor wrote to all staff on 11 June 2002 [Staff Notice 02/07: http://www.canberra.edu.au/uc/staffnotes/staffnotice_02-07.html] saying in part:

"... I require all staff to comply with the following directives in respect of the use of University facilities, services and systems:

    1. If you receive an email or other message from any external or internal source, that contains or attaches offensive material, you should retain that message and attachments and report the matter to your supervisor immediately.
    2. Supervisors must report any such incident immediately to the Director, Human Resources, who will arrange for a full and proper investigation of the matter. Normally, where appropriate, we will handle such matters at an institution-to-institution level."

Whether this is intended to cover offensive unsolicited email from spammers is unclear.

TSU will continue to monitor the situation and report back to Executive as there are further developments, including in the Commonwealth Government's approach to spam.