New Prairie United School Corporation subscribes to a service from Tangent Computer that uses the Barracuda email filtering engine to protect all of our incoming email. This system sits between our local network and the outside world, and examines every email message coming into npusc.k12.in.us from the Internet, discarding junk messages before they hit your inbox.
IS technicians have used a variety of tools to fight spam and viruses, and one of the problems we’ve had to face is that no single configuration meets everyone’s needs: for some users our approach has been too rigid, blocking some legitimate email, while for other users it was too permissive, allowing some spam and viruses to get through. One of the benefits of using Barracuda is individual users can fine-tune the filter engine to suit their personal preferences. The purpose of this document is to guide you through the configuration and use of this service.
In general terms, the Barracuda service evaluates incoming messages and applies a series of tests to classify each message according to its likelihood of being spam or carrying a virus. There are four possible categories:
- Messages that are clearly neither spam nor virus-bearing are delivered directly to your inbox.
- Messages that have some of the characteristics of spam but which may be legitimate are marked as “bulk” so that you can make a decision about how to handle them. Messages from organizations, businesses, and mailing lists often fall into this category.
- Messages that have objectionable content, attachments that might contain viruses, or which match known spam content are marked as “quarantined.” You have the option of having these suspicious messages held on the server for your review.
- Messages that are clearly spam or virus-bearing are discarded before you see them.
At the simplest level you can use your email program just as you have always used it. Barracuda will strip out obvious spam and deliver the remaining messages to your inbox. You will however notice one major difference: some of the messages arriving in your inbox will bear the labels [BULK] or [QUAR] in the subject line. These labels are there as a warning to help you determine what needs to be done with those messages: read them, delete them, store them in a separate folder, etc. You will need to be cautious, particularly with messages marked [QUAR], since there is a small probability that they could contain viruses.
This basic approach requires minimal time and effort on your part. The downside is that when used at this level you’re agreeing to accept Barracuda’s judgment as final, which means some unwanted messages may get through while other desirable ones may get blocked, or at least labeled. If this isn’t good enough, you can take advantage of Barracuda’s customization tools by setting up an individual user account. Setting up and using that account is the subject of the remainder of this document.
SETTING UP A TANGENT/BARRACUDA USER ACCOUNT
All NPUSC email users have access to the personal account management system that runs on Tangent’s servers. To make use of this system you must initialize your account. Follow these steps:
- Submit an account request from the Tangent/Barracuda web site. All holders of New Prairie United School Corporation email accounts can establish a Barracuda user account. Tangent provides a quick setup box from their home page at http://tcnoc.com. At the bottom of the page you’ll see a web form that contains the following login panel. If you have not yet established a Barracuda account, you can create one by entering your official NPUSC email address (in the form ) and your choice of password. Enter the password twice to confirm it, and then click create.
- Log in to your account. After a submitting your request, the system will take you to another page where you will be able to log in using your new account. See the next section for more information on configuring and using your account.
- Creating a new password. If you forget your password, you can create a new one from the web page http://ms6.tcnoc.com using the form displayed below. Just enter your username, which is your regular NPUSC email address, and click Create New Password. Your password will be sent to you in the form of an email message, which you can use to log in to your account. (Note that you can also use this form to set up a new account).
SETTING YOUR PREFERENCES
Once your account is working there are some basic preferences to set. All of these are available from the Preferences tab. When the Preferences page appears, the default view will show you the Security page, with the other options displayed as a row of links.
You can use this form at any time to change your password. Click the Password tab under Preferences to display the form shown above. Fill in the fields and then click the Save Password button to activate your changes. You will at this point be sent back to the login page, where you will be able to log in again with your new password. If at any time you happen to forget your new password, use the Create New Password option on the login screen to get a reminder, as described above.
Under the Quarantine Settings tab of the Preferences section you can configure the way the Quarantine service operates. In the top part of this form you have the opportunity to turn the quarantine service off and on. If you select “Yes” for Enable Quarantine, then all messages that would otherwise show up as [QUAR] in your inbox will instead be stored on this server. This means that your regular inbox will not be clogged up with dubious email messages, but it also means that you’ll have to go to the Barracuda server to act on quarantined messages. Click Save Changes after you have made your choice.
If you have enabled the Quarantine service, messages that are labeled [QUAR] will accumulate in your account on the Barracuda server, and sooner or later you will want to review them. It’s easy to forget to do this chore, and as a result you may miss seeing important messages. Fortunately there is an alternative. You can use the lower part of the Quarantine Settings page to tell the system to send you regular email reports summarizing the contents of your Quarantine box either daily or weekly. These notifications are graphic email messages that looks very much like the Quarantine Inbox that you see when you log into the Barracuda server. If you have more than one email account and would prefer that your quarantine notifications go to a different address, enter that address in the box provided. Click Save Changes to record your settings.
Below is an example of a notification as it appears in your email inbox. This is actually an interactive message: in most email clients clicking on a link in the Actions column will open your browser and take you to directly to the Quarantine Inbox display on the server without requiring a login. See below for details on managing quarantined messages.
On the Spam Settings tab of the Preferences section you can enable or disable the spam filter. “Yes” is the default, and is the recommended option. If you set this to “No” then you will not be protected by Barracuda. Click Save Changes to record your settings.
Filtering spam is always an imperfect process, and in some ways a matter of judgment and personal preference. Barracuda applies a set of standardized spam tests, but if those tests are not producing the results you want you can use this section of the Preferences section to modify how they are applied. You have two choices. The Whitelist option allows you to designate senders that you trust and whose messages you do not want to be labeled as spam. Just enter the address of the sender and click Add. Note that the whitelist option only applies to messages that have a medium-probability spam rating. High probably spam and virus bearing messages will not be delivered even if the sender’s address is whitelisted.
The Blacklist option is just the opposite. Addresses entered here will be blocked even if they do not register as spam to the Barracuda engine. You can use this feature to make sure that you will receive messages from certain favored senders, to block messages from unwanted mailers, and more generally to reduce the number of items that arrive marked as [QUAR] or [BULK], which will in turn cut down the amount of time you have to spend on maintenance.
Note that you can enter either a fully qualified email address in these tables, which will act only on the messages of a particular sender, or just a domain name (everything after the @ sign in an email address), which will affect the messages from all senders at that domain. See below for examples of both types of entry. To remove an item from either list, click the trash can icon next to its entry.
MANAGING QUARANTINED MAIL
The Quarantine Inbox is your personal display on the Barracuda server of any quarantined mail that has been saved for your review. Here’s a screen shot of a section this page, showing three quarantined messages pending.
The system assigns messages to the Quarantine category that have a high likelihood of being junk mail. But because these messages are quarantined rather than simply discarded, you have the opportunity to make decisions about how to handle them.
Near the top of this screen are several controls that affect the display. The Refresh button is like a browser’s refresh or reload button, updating the display to show the current state of the system. The Filter feature lets you limit the display to specific items, and at the right (not visible on the screen shot above) there are left and right arrow controls that page the display forward and backwards if there are too many entries for a single page.
Below those controls is a row of five buttons that define various actions that can be applied to messages. You can select one or more messages as targets of the action by clicking the checkbox to left of each entry, or you can click the checkbox at the top of the column (next to the Date label) to select the entire group. The first three actions are fairly straightforward:
- Deliver — sends the selected message(s) on to your regular NPUSC inbox (this may take several minutes).
- Whitelist — automatically adds the sender’s information to your whitelist.
- Delete — discards the selected message(s).
These three functions are also available as links in the Actions column for each entry — you can use these to apply the action to single messages.
It’s important to note that the “Deliver” and “Delete” options affect only the current message, not any future messages with the same profile. For example, choosing to have a quarantined message from a particular source delivered will do nothing to change the fact that the next message from that source will probably get quarantined as well, and by the same token deleting a specific message won’t stop the next message that comes in from that sender. This just means more work for you. Fortunately there’s a better way: taking advantage of Barracuda’s ability to learn by example.
Normally the Barracuda filter applies a series of global tests and each tested message receives a cumulative score that determines how the message will be classified. These tests are reasonable approximations of what most users want, but there is a large gray area in between “spam” and “not spam” and you may find that you don’t always agree with Barracuda’s decisions. The solution to this problem is to feed Barracuda examples of messages you consider to be spam and messages you consider to be valid. This is the purpose of the other two action buttons on this screen:
- Classify as Not Spam — submits the selected message to the filter engine, which in turn uses its features to classify future similar messages as valid email.
- Classify as Spam — submits the selected message to the filter engine, which in turn uses its features to classify future messages as spam. These messages are then deleted from your quarantine box.
This is a dynamic system that in effect learns your preferences over time. The more examples you present to the system, the more accurate its tests will become and the number of messages appearing in the Quarantine Inbox will go down. It’s important to note that this is not a binary, yes/no decision-making process. It is instead “fuzzy” and constantly changing, and whether an individual message is ultimately labeled as [BULK] or [QUAR] is a function not of any single test but the cumulative effect of all the tests. What Barracuda is giving you with these tools is a way to influence the criteria used when these tests are applied. As the system learns your needs it will become, from your perspective, “smarter” and will require less of your time and attention.