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Campus Offers a Way to Dam E-mail Flooding

Posted October 6, 1999

"Shut down this e-mail account!" is a demand often heard by the folks at Information Systems and Technology who monitor the misuse of campus computing and network resources.

The complaint is in reference to unwanted e-mail messages being distributed via campus mailing lists, says Karen Eft, a policy analyst.

The phenomenon is called flooding, and according to Eft, it usually happens in this way. First, someone sends an e-mail message to one or more campus mailing lists, resulting in distribution to a very large number of people. This triggers replies from irritated recipients who don't want the message. Many of these complaints are addressed to everyone on the list, rather than to the individual sender or list owner.

"From this point, a few persons try educating those on the list about proper e-mail procedures by sending yet another message to everyone," said Eft. "This may be followed by even more messages telling the educators not to distribute their information to everyone on the list. On and on it goes, ad infinitum."

Eft says most flooding can be prevented if the owners of mailing lists take precautionary steps. For example, all messages addressed to the list can first be routed to the owner, who screens them before they are broadcast.

List owners also can choose to operate a closed list, which allows only the persons on a mailing list to send messages to the list.

"Anti-flooding controls are particularly important in the case of lists used to conduct official departmental business," said Eft. "Unlike normal mailing lists that require subscription permission from everyone on the list, these folks cannot simply unsubscribe to the mailing list when they receive messages they don't want."

There are many ways to configure mailing lists to better target the audience and to reduce e-mail flooding, says Eft.

To learn more about the appropriate use of e-mail, see Informations Systems and Technology's newsletter, "Computing and Communications," at ( To report improper use of e-mail, send a message to (



October 6 - 12, 1999 (Volume 28, Number 9)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the
Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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