Blaise Pascal, Penseé 347: “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this. All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.”

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Another Phishing Expedition

It is clear that with phishing, the IT staff at Fresno State is struggling with a problem whose size and difficulty I did not appreciate. I am sorry about the tone of the last entry on this blog. I did not mean to pick on IT. I was surprised that we could be blacklisted by Google or Yahoo or Comcast, even intermittently, without the campus as a whole being notified through email by a senior administrator, and frankly, I still am. Especially for faculty trying to publish or attend conferences, any break in the lines of communication is serious--and even more serious if we do not know about the problem. But I doubt it was IT's duty to ring the alarm bell for the campus.

There seem to be two main ways the phishing problem manifests itself to Fresno State email users. One is when an individual account is compromised, has to be shut down, and then reopened. You'll know if it happens to you: your email won't work at all. Jim Michael addresses this in a bulletin post of July 26, referred to by Yola in her comment on the last blog. See Please Watch Out for Phishing Attempts

The second problem is blacklisting of the university by Google, Yahoo, or some other big provider because of the volume of spam that goes out from our compromised accounts. We all suffer from this, even though we may have avoided being "phished" ourselves. The problem here is that we don't know about the blacklist until our emails either don't go through or we find that we haven't received emails. This seemed to be happening to me, on an irregular basis, for several months. It is confusing, though, because sometimes I get gmail from senders and sometimes I don't. Sometimes email that I sent to a perfectly good email address would get bounced back, not always immediately--and I didn't know why. Several people I've talked to have had the same trouble. Now at least I have a sense of what this is happening and can be on the lookout for it, though I still don't know much about how blacklisting works.

Had I been informed of this problem, I'd have switched to my backup gmail account, both for communication with family and friends, and for communication with academics and publishers, and I if I was concerned about how this looked professionally, I would have explained why it was necessary for me to be gmailing rather than fresnostate emailing.

It has been suggested to me that this is a problem that didn't need to be addressed. I disagree. Not being notified of the blacklisting was the problem, and this is a typical Fresno State pattern, hence my irritation. But it wasn't necessarily a Help Desk problem or an IT problem, so I apologize to them. The standard for what gets communicated and how fast it gets communicated is set from the top down, and we've seen how that works, from budget information to parking lot renovation.


  1. This was a comment that came to be by email, with a request for anonymous publication:

    Hy Craig,
    Cautionary tale from last summer: I generally have proposals on the conference [named specifically, but I've deleted that] sessions I organize (between 5 and 7 panels) that start to come in over the summer. Last summer, two people failed to get through, claiming that nothing was wrong with their accounts (gmail and a Rochester University account, if I remember right). I asked our IT guys, who told me our email here had had some 'glitches'. One of the people was extremely upset, and complained rather bitterly to the conference, hounding me for months to put him into the programme. It was damn unpleasant. Much like a mutual friend of ours, I think he intenet is something of a demonic force, run by witches and associate vice-presidents, with all the malice and competence that implies. But I do NEED TO KNOW WHEN IT IS BROKEN.

  2. This is another comment to me by email, and the writer also wishes to remain anonymous: The latest post on email at Fresno State was interesting. I agree with the comments made that there have been no notifications to the campus community that correspondence is blocked. This is impacting day to day correspondence with potential students, job applicants as well as the professional correspondence you have already discussed. This problem was addressed to the campus help desk at least 6 months ago at which time I was told there was no problem. It was also addressed directly to Jim Michael, and he also indicated there was no problem. The bulletin board message from Jim Michael did not address the specific details about how to continue to collaborate and communicate with external colleagues with no correspondence from major email providers. Additionally, this problem is not occurring at all the other CSU campuses, government entities, or private industry. Many organizations have been proactive to only allow identified email accounts to send mass emails and block the rest of the accounts as they are highly likely to be hijacked by a spammer. Given that information, it seems that this is an IT problem that has not been given the proper priority and attention.

    If Jim Michael, the manager in charge of the email system is not responsible (which I would argue he is), then it seems that Cindy Matson should provide detailed information regarding who we can and cannot receive and/or send emails. She has the time and resources to send out ridiculous post cards for her logo changes, training schedules (that are easily viewed online) and Administrative Services brochures promoting how fabulous her initiatives are for our campus.

    There were committees that reviewed potential replacement email solutions for our campus. The majority of people on the committee said do not go with Zimbra - because of the some of these issues. Cindy Matson decided to do it despite recommendations. Even with the Discovery of Zimbra faults from the Diversity of committee members, the poor unilateral choice has certainly led to Distinction of Fresno State with major email providers!