I came across this amusing story last week, it was of particular interest because it reminded me of the 4 years I spent at the University of Aberystwyth, where the Welsh language was fiercely protected.
It’s a beautiful language, but notoriously difficult to learn, especially to read and write (I knew several people that could speak Welsh fluently, but struggled with the written form).
The story does highlight some intrinsic problems with the use of automated Out of Office replies especially in the run up to the festive season. We’ve talked before about the problem of ‘backscatter’, spam emails arriving in users mailboxes as a result of their email address being ‘faked’ by the spammers. Any email addresses that don’t exist are returned as ‘Non delivery reports’ (NDRs).
Backscatter contributes to around 1% of all spam messages, and are notoriously difficult to block with a low false positive rate. After all, one persons out of office message is another persons unwanted email.
Out of Office replies add to this problem, with some estimates that autoresponders like OOTO contribute to 10-20% of all backscatter. Anyone subscribed to any sort of mailing list will be painfully aware of the problem when any posting to a list end up with a torrent of ‘I’m currently on Vacation in Hawaii’ messages clogging up the list because of poorly configured autoresponses.
If the sender address isn’t faked, an auto response tells the spammer that the address belongs to a real person. Something that is very valuable, it allows a more targeted campaign, and spam lists of verified individuals are more valuable when sold on to other spammers.
Which brings me to my final point, many people feel the urge to put a lot of detail in their OOTO responses, listing names of co workers, telephone numbers, project names and so on, providing valuable information to a potential spear phisher.
So the message is. Configure your email client not to respond to mailing lists, and preferably, don’t send to anyone outside of you organisation. In fact, do you really need to tell anyone that you will be taking a few days vacation over the festive season?
In the meantime
Mae fy hofrenfad yn llawn o lyswennod
Credit to Omniglot for the Welsh phrases, and BBC Wales for the amusing signs.