MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XVI No. 3
December / January 2004
Financing MIT
Vest to the Faculty
Our New Look
The Search for a New President
Assigning a Final Grade When Some of the Work Has Not Been Completed
Identifying My Father
A Child's Chore
The Laboratory for Nuclear Science
Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology
LBGT Issues
Trans at the Institute
Making the Most of E-Mail: Popular Services, Recent Changes
OCW as Knight Errant
Individuals Appointed to the Faculty
1985 to Present
Printable Version

Making the Most of E-Mail: Popular Services, Recent Changes

Theresa Regan

A Quick Look at Popular E-Mail/Remote Access Services (click for quick list).

E-mail is now such an integral part of daily life at the Institute that it may seem predictable and mundane. A lot goes on behind the scenes, however, to maintain and enhance MIT's e-mail system. Information Systems (IS) supplies the technical expertise, servers, and other infrastructure resources to handle the remarkable flow of e-mail in, across, and out of MIT. IS also responds to customer requests for e-mail service enhancements and to a variety of security issues.

In the last several months, IS has introduced several enhancements and changes to e-mail at MIT. Popular services include spam screening, auto-responder (vacation e-mail reply), a more robust implementation of MIT WebMail, and iPass.

On the security side, IS has established a new policy prohibiting the distribution of executable e-mail attachments, which can unleash viruses and worms, and now supports the use of secure SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) authentication for outgoing mail.

Please note that these services and security measures are provided for mail sent through central, IS-supported mail servers or received by IS-supported post office servers (i.e., po9, po10, po11, po12, or po14) - that is, for mail addressed to and from <> (and not, for example, <> or <>).

New E-Mail Options at Your Service

In response to customer requests, IS has added three e-mail-related services and an Internet access service to its offerings.

  • Spam Screening gives users of MIT e-mail the option of screening incoming messages for unsolicited, unwanted junk e-mail. MIT Spam Screening performs a series of tests on an incoming e-mail message and scores it according to a set of criteria. Users can then optionally filter messages that qualify as spam.

Note: The contents of your e-mail are not being changed or blocked. All e-mail sent to you at MIT will be delivered to you, even spam - though you can have spam delivered to a special IMAP folder that you designate. You must configure a filter in your e-mail client or create a specific IMAP mailbox for any filtering to happen. If you do not select either of these options, the only change caused by spam screening will be additional headers in your e-mail.

For more information about setting up spam screening, see .

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  • Auto-Responder lets you set an automatic reply to messages sent to your MIT e-mail address <> during an absence. It will reply to messages that contain your address in the To: or Cc: line. A great feature of this service is that correspondents don't get a response every time they send you a message. The auto-responder sends only one message to each sender based on a "wait" period (of one to 31 days) that you can designate.

Activating the auto-responder - which requires an MIT personal certificate - is straightforward. For details, see the Auto-Responder Web page at .

  • MIT WebMail provides a convenient way to read, reply to, send, and delete current e-mail using almost any Web browser, almost anywhere in the world. Access to the MIT e-mail servers is secure and encrypted. MIT WebMail has proven so popular that IS recently added a second server to improve performance.

You can access MIT's WebMail installation from . This Web page provides links to instructions and an FAQ.

  • iPass offers low-cost remote connections for travelers, enabling you to call a local (or nearby) access number to connect to the Internet and MITnet without incurring long-distance charges.

You must register for the iPass service and download and install the iPassConnect client software. For more information, see .

Recent E-Mail Security Measures

Due to security issues and problems related to spam, IS has changed some of its e-mail practices - and there will likely be more changes to come.

  • Executable E-Mail Attachment Filtering . The MIT mail system no longer distributes e-mail attachments that self-execute on receipt. (Such e-mail messages have specific extensions, such as .exe, .cmd, or .pif.) This change in policy is in response to the growing trend by malicious hackers to use these attached files to exploit operating system and application security flaws. Executable e-mail attachments can carry worms and viruses that are destructive and fast-moving.
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E-mail rejected because of an executable attachment will not be delivered, and a note will be returned to the sender acknowledging that the e-mail was not delivered due to MIT's e-mail operating policy. Distribution of non-executable e-mail attachments, such as Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations, will continue uninterrupted.

Those who need to exchange executable files should consider alternatives, such as file transfer protocol (FTP). IS supports several secure FTP options, and more complete information is available at . If you need to exchange any executable files through the MIT mail system, you will now first need to package them (by zip, tar, etc.).

The Mail Hub Attachment Filtering page at has more information, including a full list of executable extensions that will be filtered.

  • SMTP Authentication . MIT's outgoing SMTP mail server,, has been modified to ensure the reliable delivery of authenticated mail. This was done to help guarantee that MIT's outgoing mail server is not misused (e.g., by spammers), which might result in large Internet service providers refusing to accept e-mail from MIT.

At some point in the future, members of the MIT community may need to configure their e-mail clients for SMTP authentication. Information Systems has developed a Web page with instructions on how to securely authenticate your outbound e-mail at MIT. It's at .

The Last Word

For a comprehensive look at the e-mail software, services, and support that IS offers, visit the E-Mail at MIT page at .

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