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Chain mail - The bubonic plague of information technology

by Scott Hollatz Now that flu season is here, many of us take special care not to become ill by not being in close proximity of those infected or through inoculation. Why is being ill bad? It drains our body's resources and increases the likelihood of infecting others.

Recall the bubonic plague that hit Europe in 1348. This killed nearly half the population by 1350, caused labor scarcities, peasant uprisings, and increased wages.

To computer systems and networks, chain mail, the electronic form of the chain letter, is very much like the bubonic plague in that it drains system resources and increases the time staff has to deal with it.

Neglecting content for a moment, what is considered chain mail? The obvious type simply requests you to send the message to others. Another is where you feel compelled by duty to forward the message, as in the case of computer virus alerts. But in each case, still neglecting content, chain mail clogs the mail delivery systems and networks, siphoning scarce resources for no good.

Often, chain mail may ask you to send money to the previous sender. While this may sound lucrative if you forward the message, it's against the law. Title 18, United States Code, Section 1302, the Postal Lottery Statute, considers chain mail a form of gambling and illegal if money or items of value are sent through regular mail, even if the initial request was from e-mail.

Some chain mail simply doesn't make sense. For example, "...if you send this message to five of your friends, the XYZ Company will donate $3 to the Jane Doe Cancer Fund." Who is watching mail delivery? No one. This is a hoax. Other e-mail hoaxes include computer virus reports as these are never sent via chain mail.

UMD Information Services has a semi-automated system for dealing with chain mail. In almost all cases, you should ignore and delete the message after notifying Information Services.

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Last Revised on 12/12/97 sab [an error occurred while processing this directive]