New spam quarantine system causes problem for MIT email users

IS&T switched email security infrastructure in response to DDoS attack early December

MIT email users have been experiencing issues with spam quarantine with the new email service and filtering system.

A distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on MIT’s email infrastructure Dec. 3 pushed IS&T to migrate its email security infrastructure to Microsoft Office 365, according to IS&T’s news website and knowledge base. During the attack, users could not receive external email or send to domains outside of MIT.    

Because of the switch in email services, MIT’s email filtering system is now Microsoft’s Exchange Online Protection, a change from Brightmail’s Spam Quarantine system. This was a “difficult decision” and “not something undertaken lightly,” Mark Silis, associate vice president of IS&T, wrote in an email to The Tech on behalf of IS&T.

Due to DDoS attacks on the email forwarding service Dec. 4, IS&T redirected all email for addresses to the same service.

IS&T has adjusted filters to focus on only spam and malware and not bulk email. They have marked significant portions of MIT as “safe senders,” in response user feedback, Silis wrote. Initially, bulk emails were sometimes quarantined, but IS&T has adjusted the filter settings to resolve this, according to news on its website Dec. 21.

The MIT Alert email about the Building 66 fire last Thursday was quarantined as spam for thirty percent of students who responded to an informal survey sent by Yevhenii Diomidov ’19 to dorm mailing lists. Diomidov shared the results of the survey, which received 197 responses, with The Tech.

Some outstanding issues are that messages forwarded to external accounts are flagged as spam, and external email providers may flag Microsoft Exchange Online Protection’s “Spam Notice” emails, according to IS&T’s knowledge base.

The latter problem is due to Microsoft’s not signing these emails, and IS&T has opened a support ticket with Microsoft to request that they do so. IS&T will contact users who forward to other accounts and are experiencing issues within a few days, Silis wrote.

Users of MIT email accounts cannot opt out of spam filtering because it would pose a risk to other users, according to IS&T’s knowledge base.

“The new spam [quarantine] is horrible! It has like 50% false positives for me, and even quarantines emails from itself,” Michael Skuhersky G wrote in an email to The Tech. “I keep missing important emails by like 24hrs until the spam quarantine summary gets sent!”