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Updated: 8 December 2006
Spam, spam, spam, spam!
The chart above (click for larger version) shows the incoming email to Chebucto over the last week. The two colors represent Chebucto's two incoming mail servers, the first point of entry for mail being sent from other places to Chebucto. The small spikes Tuesday were queued mail from mail scanning server adjustments. The spike starting Wednesday morning and peaking again through the day Thursday is queued mail, mail dumped on Chebucto from the outside world faster than it could be processed. The queued mail was delivered Friday morning (Dec. 8) before 6 AM.
The type of spam making up the majority of the most recent attack slowed down processing so much that even recent improvements with new mail scanning hardware and optimized software were not enough to keep up with it. Technical chair Ed Dyer and tech staff Johnathan Thibodeau have been working long hours on Chebucto's mail scanning servers trying to come up with the best balance of testing and speed so users get mail in as timely a manner as it is delivered to Chebucto while not having mailboxes saturated with spam.
Since Thursday night, mail processing has been made sufficiently fast to keep up with incoming mail while dealing with a backlog of over 110,000 messages that had been delivered to Chebucto since Wednesday morning. Incoming mail is arriving at a rate of around 300 messages a minute. Since the majority of it is spam coming from infected home computers, traffic spikes during daylight hours in North America when the computers are turned on.
The Chebucto Office has received a lot of reports of users having delayed mail and too much spam in their mailboxes. Several users have cancelled their accounts while others have phoned or emailed that they are unsatisfied with Chebucto and are switching to other providers for their email.
Users are advised to expect more junkmail over the near term. Chebucto's main server is still working harder than usual retrying mail deliveries to over-flowed mailboxes and processing mailing list mail but there are no more delays in new incoming mail with none expected for the near term. Spam volumes have made a mess of email all over the internet with some mail servers (not Chebucto!) deleting queued mail to alleviate delays. Some mail sent to Chebucto from outside providers may be delayed or deleted before it gets to Chebucto. Many mail server administrators are reporting problems with mail, although not every provider is as forthcoming as Chebucto when it comes to reporting problems to users.
The latest deluge of junk mail, mostly promoting garbage penny stocks, weight-loss and pharmaceutical products, is hitting mail servers all over the Internet. It is coming from botnets - hijacked home computers, vulnerable to takeover because they have not been kept upgraded and patched. These zombie computers are now being linked up to tens of thousands of other hijacked computers to act in unison sending out uncountable billions of junk emails.
The spam itself is cleverly designed to make it difficult to filter,
containing random text and inline graphic files that are altered for every
individual spam. A certain amount of junk mail will pass by any mail
filter. When the amount of incoming junk mail keeps increasing as well as
being more difficult to filter, that certain amount starts to grow in
terms of actual numbers of delivered spam.
Staying up without powerA bold plan by Chebucto's technical team to use an industrial generator to keep all services online during a seven hour planned power outage Tuesday evening was a mixed success.
On the positive side, Chebucto services can now be switched over to generator power invisible to Chebucto users. A major power outage lasting seven to eight hours, now scheduled for 8 pm Sunday December 17th, is planned for the Dalhousie University campus. Chebucto plans to stay online that night.
On the less positive side, Chebucto did go down as switching over power was held up by missing hardware. One of Chebucto's bank of Chebucto Plus modems is offline meaning 23 fewer lines are available. This is still in excess of current maximum demand so users are not being affected. The modem lines will be restored when some new equipment is acquired.
Four Chebucto volunteers led by Technical Chair Ed Dyer worked through the
evening in the dark unheated Chase Building basement trying different
power configurations to keep combinations of machines online. After stores
were open Wednesday some additional hardware could be purchased and
Chebucto services were successfully switched over to generator power and
back with no service disruptions to users.
Chebucto wifi development ongoingDevelopment work continues slowly with the current mail system issues and upcoming major power outages taking up almost all staff time. Johnathan Thibodeau has constructed a directional antenna for use by wifi nodes, the backbone of the new wifi system. The antenna will be finished and tested in the near future.
The Chebucto Community Net plans to bring non-profit high-speed Internet to the metro Halifax area by building a mesh network of wireless nodes hosted by users themselves.
Currently in active development, Chebucto's plan would offer free public access to local metro and government websites and full Internet access to Chebucto Plus level memberships, currently $100 per year for individuals.
The areas to be served by the new wireless access will be determined by the residents of metro themselves.
Chebucto is looking for residents able to host wireless nodes, the cornerstone of the network, and when we get enough nodes in a neighbourhood, we can look at bringing network access where it is needed. A node sign-up form is online here.
Big mailboxes still on the wayWork continues, albeit slowly, on the plan to greatly expand the size of Chebucto mailboxes. Hardware for the expansion has been purchased and is in place. Software configuration is mostly complete except for some final software installation to be done on Chebucto's main server.
Progress has been delayed due to the recent increase in incoming junk mail and lack of technical volunteer time.
Chebucto's mail system, which offers more mail options than any other internet service provider, has been custom written, evolving over the past thirteen years tightly integrated with the rest of the software running on Chebucto's main server.
The mail system is being re-organized from top to bottom. The first
priority is to make sure it all works properly before the switch rather
than rush to get it into place. Chebucto supports many different ways to
access email - the standard POP3 and IMAP as well as Webmail and our
text-only inline PINE. We also support strong encryption for all forms of
email access on Chebucto.
Help promote Chebucto!We invite our members and supporters to help promote the Chebucto Community Net in the community by printing off and distributing Chebucto brochures and posters from our website.
We have added a new brochure for promoting our new wireless service in
Chebucto services maintenance windowThe Chebucto Technical Committee wishes to advise Chebucto users of upcoming regularly scheduled planned maintenance downtimes. Chebucto Community Net services may be unavailable between 3:30 AM and 4:30 AM Tuesdays to allow for system upgrades. Some or all Chebucto services may go down with minimum or no warning during this maintenance window as systems are shut down and restarted.
Chebucto Community Net RSS how-to guideChebucto Community Net has posted a guide on how to use our RSS news feed here: chebucto.ca/rss/
Our RSS feed is our way of letting people know fast about important software updates and security alerts as well as new developments at Chebucto. Stay informed with the news as soon as we have it ourselves with our RSS news feed.
Updated - Recommended software listWith the recent interest in Internet security and the rise in various exploits meant to take over user machines, the Chebucto Office has compiled this list of recommended software for user computers running Microsoft Windows.
Web browser: Mozilla Firefox free from Mozilla.org
Email client: Mozilla Thunderbird free from Mozilla.org
Firewall: Zone Alarm free and paid versions from Zonelabs.com
Free anti-virus programs for home users (Note that both of these programs also have paid versions which offer additional features):
FTP Software: FileZilla free from FileZilla.SourceForge.net
RSS Newsfeed Reader: RSSOwl free from RSSOwl.Org
The Chebucto Office does not recommend using the Internet Explorer web browser for any use except for accessing Microsoft's own Windows Update page. The popular web browser has been repeatedly successfully targetted by virus writers in particular seeking to break into home computers to use them for criminal purposes such as sending out spam, sending out viruses to break into other computers and being used to disrupt services on other computer systems.
After many reports about vulnerabilities for Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express email programs, and the constant stream of user complaints about randomly altered program settings and difficulty using the program, the Chebucto Community Net Office and the Chebucto Technical Committee recommend our users do not use either Outlook or Outlook Express as their email program.
Keeping Microsoft Windows up to date is also very important. Windows XP users should have Service Pack 2 installed. All Microsoft Windows users should make a point of using Internet Explorer to visit the Microsoft Windows Update site at least once a month and download all critical updates.
Cool Chebucto hats available!
We have available these excellent quality Chebucto Community Net hats. Click on photo to see larger version. These fashionable stone coloured washed cotton Chino twill hats are low fitting with adjustable strap and antique silver ring buckle for a perfect fit and are embroidered with the Chebucto Community Net logo and web address. Machine washable and drip dry with a pre curved peak, this hat will provide years of comfortable wear as well as showing your support for Halifax's own one-of-a-kind independent Community Net.
You can get your very own Chebucto Community Net hat from the Chebucto office for $20 or we can mail it out to you for an additional $10.
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