Tuesday, December 26, 2000

Intelligence Risks of E-mail Auto-Responses

 (As published in Risks Digest Volume 21, Issue 16)

For some time, I have been associated with organizations that maintained e-mail lists for communication with customers. Each customer mailing generates some quantity of e-mail responses to the mailing address or a specified reply-to address. Heuristic filters handle the most frequent types of responses, generating automatic replies or redirecting mail to appropriate addresses. There are, though, always some messages which the filters can't adequately handle, so my involvement tends to involve eyeballing them.

The workload is by no means immense - for every 6,000 outbound messages sent, I manually handle one response. Some are questions the filters didn't catch, which I pipe to various scripts. Some are bounce messages. Some are chain letters - I grep those for From: headers and bounce them to the appropriate administrators; nothing to spread holiday cheer like a corporate policy smackdown. A good many are auto-responses.

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