FTLComm - Tisdale - February 20, 2001
You will have noticed that Ensign was unavailable all of Monday. The Faster Than Light Communications server had a problem and was unable to operate this forced this site off line. The problem was a rather interesting one and one that certainly has been a concern of the Internet since its very beginning, long before the arrival of the World Wide Web, that problem is "Spam".

Spam is the use of e-mail that is sent out in copious quantities usually for advertising purposes. Each day we get about fifteen messages that are just operations who have found our e-mail address and send us a message attempting to sell something or provide some services. Spam is the junk mail of the Internet and it can be pretty annoying, so much so that the United States Congress has actually passed laws outlawing the practice. Every time you enter a contest fill out registration form or leave your address anywhere it is going to be used and often sold to "spamers". In many cases there is simply no way around the process. You may need a piece of software and in order to get it you must give them an e-mail address, the more honest and individual you are the more garbage you are going to receive.
But there are other methods of spam that are even more difficult to cope with, both Outlook Express and Netscapes E-mail have completely open architecture so that if someone sends a sweet interesting e-mail attachment and begs you to pass it on they can and many do, attach a little script to tell them who sent it and thus capture your e-mail address.
When we originally set up our server we decided that we would leave Bill Gates and his kind of so-called entrepeneurs to their thing and we would run our site honestly and openly, no hidden cookies to steal information from visitors, we do not even track using statistics our visitors so that we know where the come from. Similarly we set up our e-mail service to handle our client's e-mail and our own with complete and total security.
It was a good plan but alas some how we have been targeted by some "spammers" who are using our site to transmit their eamil to the world. On Sunday night the server clogged up with 300MB of messages, The network administrator did what he could to save the e-mail and provided a vast amount of drive space for the e-mail process. At midnight things were working and the 300MB of e-mail was on its way but by 2:30AM we were hit with half a gig of e-mail and the system collapsed unable to store and handle this much stuff plus the returns from old or no longer functioning addresses. In the mean time other networks spotted us as the source of the offensive spam and began firewalling the messages causing them to futher rebound and so we were off line until late Monday night.
All e-mail customers have been sent messages informing of changes to our system as we are forced to adopt a much tighter control over e-mail forcing users to make their outgoing mail go through their Internet Service Provider while still being able to receive mail through our system.
The measures we have taken should sort out this problem for now but we can expect some one to find another means in the future to tap into our system, it is almost enevitable and we are taking precautions to further tighten up the security on our operation while still allowing things to function. In almost every computer system, world wide it is a constant struggle between allowing your system to function and creating security levels that make it impossible for anyone including yourself to operate.