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Junk, Spam, and Phishing Email

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Is it junk, spam or phishing?

Detecting whether email is junk, spam, or phishing is a challenge at the University of Washington. This is due primarily to the UW’s unusual email routing, which has been designed to support the UW community’s highly distributed IT infrastructure. The UW provides two centrally managed productivity platforms with email services (UW G Suite and UW Office 365). UW email also allows messages addressed from UW email addresses to be sent from anywhere, and incoming messages addressed to UW email addresses to be forwarded to anywhere.

Email sent to and from UW email addresses generally passes first through UW’s Email Infrastructure service infrastructure, where it is scanned by Sophos PureMessage, a software package that filters the majority of junk, spam, and phishing email, as well as email containing malware. Once email has passed through the Email Infrastructure service, email is then delivered to the destination mailbox as selected on the UW email forwarding manage page. Upon delivery to the destination mailbox (e.g. UW Gmail, UW Office 365, consumer Gmail, Outlook.com, Yahoo!, etc.) mail is then filtered again by the platform managing the destination mailbox (e.g. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, etc.) as junk, spam, or phishing email.

Read more about the Email Infrastructure service’s junk email handling and protecting your email.

Determining if email is junk, spam, or phishing is up to each email service vendor (Sophos, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! etc.) and is based on a wide variety of potential parameters that can change minute-by-minute. Additionally, user-implemented email filtering rules can also influence whether an email is filtered as junk, spam, or phishing.

If you send a message to or from a UW email address and receive a Non-Delivery Report (NDR) email

Non-Delivery Reports (NDR) are emails sent to a sender to report that an email has failed to deliver. These emails come from the last successful system to receive the email, not from the system that rejected or failed to accept the email. These reports should have details on why the message failed. Many times, the reason will simply be because the email address the email was sent to is no longer valid.

However, if the NDR email says an email was rejected as spam, these steps may increase the chances of getting email delivered:

  • Send from a system officially “allowed” by your email domain’s Sender Policy. For those sending from @uw.edu email addresses, these include UW G Suite and UW Office 365 email services. (This does not currently include smtp.washington.edu and smtp.uw.edu that may be used with POP or IMAP clients to access UW G Suite and UW Office 365 mailboxes.)
  • Never include links that immediately require a login
  • Avoid using ALL CAPS in emails
  • Avoid using excessive exclamation marks early and often in emails
  • Remove any links or HTML from your signature
  • Avoid using excessive HTML in emails with relatively little content
  • Remove any potentially controversial or words commonly used in spam emails

If you try the above without success, you might need to:

  • Switch to sending emails as plain text (instructions for Gmail and Outlook on the web)
  • Try sending the email from a different email address. If this works but you already have gotten this far down the list, then it’s likely that your specific email address has been marked as a problem. If you are using a UW email address, please contact help@uw.edu for help in evaluating your situation. If you are using an outside address, please contact that organization for help.
  • If you have tried all the above recommendations that are practical for your situation and the situation persists, please forward the NDR email as an attachment to help@uw.edu.

If you are sending a message that is being delivered to recipients’ spam/junk folders

If you are sending email that is being delivered to spam/junk folders for recipients utilizing UW Gmail, UW Office 365, commercial Gmail, Outlook.com, etc., try these steps:

  • Send from a system officially “allowed” by your email domain’s Sender Policy. For those sending from @uw.edu email addresses, these include UW G Suite and UW Office 365 email services. (This does not currently include smtp.washington.edu and smtp.uw.edu that may be used with POP or IMAP clients to access UW G Suite and UW Office 365 mailboxes.)
  • Never include links that immediately require a login
  • Avoid using ALL CAPS in emails
  • Avoid using excessive exclamation marks early and often in emails
  • Remove any links or HTML from your signature
  • Avoid using excessive HTML in emails with relatively little content
  • Remove any potentially controversial or words commonly used in spam emails

If you try the above without success, you might need to:

  • Switch to sending emails as plain text (Instructions for Gmail and Outlook on the web)
  • Try sending the email from a different email address. If this works but you already have gotten this far down the list, then likely your specific email address has been marked as a problem. If you are using a UW email address, please contact help@uw.edu for help in evaluating your situation. If you are using an outside address, please contact that organization for help.

Read more about Gmail’s sender guidelines and Microsoft’s sender guidelines.

If you have tried all of the above which are practical for your situation, the recipient(s) will need to contact their email provider.

If you are receiving email that is incorrectly being delivered to your spam/junk folder

UW Gmail

If you are using UW Gmail and are finding emails in your spam folder that are being incorrectly delivered to spam, here are some recommendations:

If you try the above without success, you might need to:

  • Add a Gmail rule to explicitly not filter the sender. Take this step with great caution and only for email addresses that are known and important to you, as it opens you to junk, spam, and phishing attacks sent from the email address(es) you exclude.

As a last resort, you can:

  • Join this UW Group to opt out of all UW Gmail junk, spam, and phishing email protections

UW Office 365

If you are using UW Office 365 and are finding message in your Junk E-Mail folder, try these steps:

If you have tried the above and email is still incorrectly being delivered to your UW Office 365 Junk E-Mail folder, please forward the email as an attachment to help@uw.edu.