Chain e-mails @ USU violate computer policy
By Leah L. Culler
Recently, a Utah State University student violated a little-known USU computer use policy. He did so merely by sending an innocent chain letter to a few friends.
Brady Purser, who sent the letter, did not realize he was doing anything wrong.
According to Bob Bayn, manager of Academic Services for Computer Services, the policy is violated frequently.
The policy is part of an agreement students make when they are initially issued a student e-mail account at USU.
USU's Student Code, Article V, Section 3.26.f, it prohibits the "use of computers/computing facilities to interfere with the normal operation of the university computing system."
Interference of normal operation includes the sending of bulk e-mail and chain mail, says Gehri Grimaud, network systems specialist for the USU Office of Computer Services. When a student sends a chain letter or mass mailing through the USU server, it fills up the hard disks of the e-mail server. If the recipient of the letter forwards the message, the process begins again.
Purser said he didn't think he was doing anything illegal. "Maybe there should be a better way of letting us know what is illegal and what is not," he said. "All I did was send out a chain letter to a few people."
Grimaud said all mass mailings through e-mail are against USU policy. The reason for this, he said, is primarily economic.
Paper chain letters are self limiting because the sender pays for the paper, envelope and stamp. E-mail chain letters can grow out of control and destroy an e-mail system because the sender does not pay the costs of receiving and storing the message.
Bayn is responsible for disciplining violators of the computer use policy. He said the policy is often violated through postings of chain letters to news groups. Typically someone will see the chain letter posting and see it is from a "usu.edu" address.
The individual then sends a complaint to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, or directly to the director of student services or president the university. All of these complaints will eventually find their way to Bayn, he said.
He checks the included message headers, log files and account usage records to make sure the evidence appears authentic and identifies the owner of the sending account.
In the case of a student, Bayn sends a message to both the offending student and the dean of the student's college. The student is required to contact the dean's office to make an appointment to see their academic dean. The student's college then handles any disciplinary proceedings.
David Stephens, College of Business dean, said he has dealt with two or three cases that fall under the heading of computer usage abuse.
"In most instances, the students seem to be surprised that they've drifted into an area that's in violation of the policy," Stephens said. "My feeling has been that the students were quite genuine."
Stephens said he usually meets with the department head of the student's department. The department head usually investigates the situation further and counsels the student.
"It depends on the seriousness of the offense and the student's attitude," Stephens said. "We try to educate as to what's appropriate."
Stephens said the department head then issues some kind of punishment, which has almost always been a period of probation as opposed to an immediate sort of punitive action.
"I don't know of any repeat offenders," he said.
Stephens said the only way the violations have been brought to the attention of the college is when someone reports it.
This was the case for Purser's e-mail.
Aaron Smith, a USU student, received the chain letter e-mail from Purser. He showed it to a friend, who reported the letter.
"I know of the campus computer use policy because they make you go over it way back when we signed up for our VMS accounts," Smith said. "I think that the policy on chain letters is a good one."
Smith said that besides being a waste of time, there are way too many scams out there.
"If I were to send eight bucks out each time I got one, I'd definitely be looking for another way to fund my cereal addiction," he said.
According to Bayn, violation of the computer use policy can ultimately
result in the loss of access to computer resources.