Friday, June 29, 2007

Tsumani waring system sending out Spam

A number of national and international Tsunami warning centers around the world issue advice on potential threats via electronic systems. These are being issued via the Internet, web and other modern systems, using the same format previously used for teletype. This may stop the messages being easily interpreted or even received at all.

Before the Internet Tsunami warning centers issued warnings via teletype. Some centers are experimenting with web based formats, with XML machine readable message formats, images and HTML formatting to enhance the message. But the basic warning messages are still being issued in the same text format used for teletypes.

Teletypes have a limited character set and upper case was used for messages. This is still used, even when the message is sent by e-mail or other Internet based system. The result is a message which is harder for the human reader to interpret. In addition a spam filter will interpret the all upper case message as being potential unsolicited mail. These is a risk that the messages will therefore be blocked by a Spam filter.

This problem was reported to the UNESCO interim Indian Ocean System and the
Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), in 2005. An item on it appeared in Computerworld magazine, the same month.

The same problem occurred with a recent Tsunami Bulletin from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (number 001 issued 0307Z 28 JUN 2007). Spamassassin (a popular open source spam filter) rated the message at 2.7. Wile this is a long way from a rating of definitely being Spam (around 10 on a 0 to 10 scale), it ideally should be zero. Spamassassin's tests applied were: BAYES_40 -0.148, DNS_FROM_RFC_WHOIS 0.6, NO_REAL_NAME 0.961, UPPERCASE_75_100 1.371.

The message being in upper case contributed more than half of the spam rating. While organizations are reluctant to change long established formats for emergency messages, perhaps it is time the tsunami format was changed.

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