Sunday, 05 October 2003
I’ve found over the past couple of years that more and more people from random places and through random contacts call on me to help them determine what they can do to solve some kind of IT problem. Case in point: Junk email. Spam. UCE. Whatever you want to call it, I don’t care – It sucks.

I always knew spam was a problem for me personally, and that it affected others around me. What I never fully realized is just how big an impact it had. I used to have to wade through hundreds of real, legitimate emails sent to me each day, combined with another 150-plus spam emails. That’s per day. It made for a stressful process of information management and communicating at work. As the days and months went by, the mess got bigger. And as many IT and HR managers know, some of the more colorful email that comes in through company email servers is more than just annoying. About a year ago, I was presenting a new web-based interface to our email system to all of our company’s employees. So, I fire it up, open my email there on the big screen in front of the whole company, and sure enough, there on the screen: “Mega Porn Superstore!” Thank goodness it didn’t have pictures. That would have been bad. I mean worse.

Like it or not, it can be a real liability in this day and age for companies that know there’s a problem with certain kinds of junk email if they don’t do anything to make it stop for their employees. Professional spammers have so many means by which they acquire and create email addresses for their mailing lists, it’s almost impossible these days to actually use your email address and not receive junk mail.

So, being the “IT-visionary” that I am (read: the guy who people expect to magically solve all their problems), and since I obviously stood to benefit personally, I of course assigned one of my already-overworked IT crew to do yet more work, searching with me for the killer anti-spam solution for our business. There are a whole slew of options out there, and a number of them are worth looking at. It’s worth noting that I was very picky about what I wanted, and the resulting set of requirements for a solution was equally demanding: Stop all spam. Don’t block any email that’s not spam. Give me company-wide administrative control over what the anti-spam system does, but at the same time give end users the same level of control over their individual mail accounts. Oh, and it had to be a server solution – no client side software allowed. The last thing we needed/wanted was yet another software program we couldn’t manage easily. The solution needed to actually solve the problem, in other words. Clean up the junk mail, and don’t make more work for the IT support people.

Now, if you take a good look at what’s available out there and then apply our business requirements, you end up with a list that’s substantially shorter than when you started. After all, there are tons of client-side products of varying quality and reliability that claim to stop spam email, and there are also a number of server-based options that provide centralized spam control. But we found that many of them just don’t do a very good job. In the process of researching options, we found several products that claim “better than 75% spam reduction,” and not surprisingly they manage to deliver on that figure. But that was not close to good enough for us. We needed closer to 99% reduction, and we needed the same level or better of accuracy, it had to be easy to use, manageable and personalized for individual employees. What we needed to find was a company that placed the same performance and feature demands on it’s solution as we did

Believe it or not, we actually found what we were looking for. From the back alleys of the anti-spam software world comes MailFrontier’s Anti-Spam Gateway. The company also produces software that runs on the desktop and integrates with your mail program. But their server-based solution, which acts as a high-capacity SMTP email gateway and spam catcher, simply rules. Since putting this product in place, we have achieved nearly 100% accuracy on junk email blocking, and for the email that counts the most – mail from our customers and partners, for example – we can guarantee truly 100% delivery. And I mean blocking – unless an end user wants to see the junk mail, the ASG server prevents it from ever showing up, and can send a report as often as the user likes listing the email that has been blocked. All this from one product, centrally managed, and at a very reasonable cost. Our employees are ecstatic about the results, and they are some pretty demanding people, let me tell you. Hey, not bad.

For my part, I can say that my stress level has definitely dropped with regard to email issues. Stress level? What? Let me explain. I get a lot of email, and so do others. And a lot of it is unsolicited junk mail. Over the past couple of months, 298,915 Internet emails have arrived at our company’s mail server. All of these emails are now checked first by our anti-spam gateway server. Of those emails, 237,176 were junk. That’s nearly 80% of the total inbound email! And sure enough, studies show that more than 75% of the email on the internet is spam.

So, that’s all well and good for big companies like ours, but for those who don’t run their own mail server, it doesn’t help much. Many companies have their own domain names, but someone else actually runs their email system for them. It’s just more cost effective, or it’s simply easier that way. For those of you who fit into that category, you might take a look at SpamSoap. I recommended them to a friend recently, and he’s been very happy, achieving some pretty terrific results: “It actually worked so well in the first few hours that I thought my mail was broken,” he said. “Then, a legitimate email showed up. Boom. Very nice.”

For those of you who have no option but to use a client-based spam killer, there are so many options it’s scary. Working similarly to the server-based solution we found, MailFrontier Matador is an option worth trying. It’s not free, but it’s relatively inexpensive and they have a trial version so you can check it out before you buy. You might also look at Outlook 2003 when it hits the street, as it does a somewhat decent job of junk mail filtering (better than Outlook XP did, anyhow). And there’s tons of other options available that are way too numerous to list here, so here’s a link to get you started.

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Sunday, 05 October 2003 10:15:36 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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