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Letters from/to the Editor

Dear User Support group

I would like to raise a question about the news posting at CERN.

As is well known, and also reported in a recent CNL issue (220), many systems, and in particular VMS systems, both at CERN and in the world, host the CERN newsgroups. These groups, called CERN.XXXX, play an important role in spreading knowledge in fields strictly related to particular interest for scientists of the physics community.

Everybody can see his messages published both by a direct posting on the newsgroup or by sending a mail to the newsgroup moderator for a later posting.

Direct posting gives great freedom and of course is quicker, but, unfortunately, it also allows the posting of news that may be useless, or even annoying, for the people comprising that particular newsgroup.

The exponential growth of the popularity of the Internet is leading to an increasing amount of useless messages and garbage-mail spreading in all networks. In order to avoid the presence of such messages even on the CERN newsgroups posted from anonymous users I would strongly suggest the posting only through the presence of a moderator for each newsgroup, responsible for the posted news.

I would like to see this letter published on the `Letters to the Editor' of one of the following issues of CERN Computer Newsletter.

Thanks very much for your attention, sincerely yours

Aniello Saggese

Dear Mr Saggese

Although agreeing with you that unwanted postings to professional newsgroups are a serious inconvenience to those who follow them, there is unfortunately no solution to it:

Therefore, I am afraid we cannot fulfil your wishes. In this world of widespread usage of the net, noise on newsgroups must be accepted as part of their usage...

Best regards,

M.Marquina,CN/DCI (User Support)

Remarks from the Computer Security Officer

Having just read the above letter and reply as the CNL was going to press I would like to make a few comments. First, the remarks made in the above letter are of concern to us. There has been occasional mis-use of the CERN news groups in the past concerning, sometimes minor (Non-CERN related advertisements in, sometimes more worrying (pornographic material) postings. CERN, as a professional establishment, needs to maintain an image that is in keeping with its technical competence. As CERN Computer Security Officer, issues concerning the mis-use of CERN resources are occasionally notified to me. As a result, and due to our concern in this area, CN is in the process of promoting a policy concerning news groups that ``belong'' to CERN (cern.*). The basis for the policy is the following proposal:
  1. If the news group is open to submissions from persons not at CERN then it should be moderated.
  2. If the news group is restricted, such that submissions can only be made from CERN accounts, then it can be un-moderated.
  3. The Charter of each CERN news group should be regularly re-issued to remind the population of what is acceptable for that news group.
However, the technical reality of the situation is that moderating news groups is manpower intensive, and furthermore that the protocols used to handle moderated news postings are not secure. A determined author could (easily) bypass the authorisation mechanism of current news services. For non-moderated news groups, anyone who receives a news group may inject a posting locally and this will be fed throughout the ``news network'', eventually arriving on the CERN news system. CERN may well be the last to see a posting in the `cern' newsgroup. Although the CERN news groups are only fed to the HEP world they invariably leak due to a lack of news management at other sites. Furthermore, some of the CERN news groups accept feeds from other HEP institutes where there are no current restrictions on postings. In conclusion I would say that there is very little that can be done with the existing news products. Any improvement would have to be supported by the news managers of all the HEP sites re-distributing CERN news groups. There is probably only that could be considered a CERN-only news group-most of the others are fed to our colleagues at other HEP sites. The situation is very frustrating as there is currently no real-world solution to the problem. It is CN's opinion that we should have a responsible policy regarding these issues, even if todays technology means that the implementation will be weak. Adherence to such a policy, as the news protocols evolve will, hopefully, lead us in the right direction.

John Gamble CN/CS (CERN Computer Security Officer)

Michel Goossens
CN Division
Tel. 3363
Tue Nov 28 18:14:41 MET 1995