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Email was once called the "Killer App" of the Internet. Then came spam or UCE — unsolicited commercial email. Now, unless you have a brand-new email account or good anti-spam software, email is a source of wasted time, frustration, and miscommunication. Here's how to make it the Killer App again.
By Stephen Worden / Illuminova Technical Services, (c) 2010
I have reviewed and demo'd dozens of anti-spam products. I even configured spamassassin (from the Linux world) to run on my XP laptop. While it did a good job for me, my clients can't afford a solution like that so I kept looking. (Yes, it was "free," but it took four hours to download and assemble all the pieces.)
Today I have four solutions — one for standalone desktops, one for those of you who are running Exchange Server, one appliance-based system that will do your whole network of users, and one cloud-based system that uses an a service from Google to remove spam from your email. I also have an option for those of you who are open to Linux solutions.
To be specific (and because you asked) these are the programs I've used in fulltime production-mode — Symantec / Norton Internet Security, McAfee SpamKiller, Computer Associates eTrust Anti-Spam, No Spam Today, and the aforementioned Spam Assassin. All of them did a fair job of filtering, but were disappointing for a variety of other reasons: they were invasive (interfered with my work too much), resource pigs (bogging-down the computer from time to time), cost too much, marked good mail as spam (false positives), or were clunky and hard to use.
Here are the winners. They are easy to install, do a fantastic job, don't interfere with your work, and don't cost a lot — in fact, one of them is free.
Standalone workstation anti-spam software
Without going into lengthy definition of "Bayesian filtering" let me just
say that most anti-spam programs rely on a set of rules or tests against
which incoming email is measured. If the message fails enough of the
"Does this look like spam" tests, it is shuttled off to the spam folder.
Practically ALL anti-spam programs work this way. And despite all the
brain power that has gone into creating those rules, SOME of your good email
gets marked as spam. There's a better way.
One other point concerning this software — virtually all of the attacks received through email, like infected attachments and phishing scams, are stopped by this very effective utility.
A network spam filter
Barracuda Networks has created a small, rack-mounted appliance that provides anti-spam, anti-spoofing, anti-phishing, and anti-virus protection in one easy-to-configure unit. You unbox it, wire it into your network behind your firewall (you are using a firewall, right?), and turn it on. It's really that easy. Barracuda Networks uses a host of mechanisms (well, ten, anyway) to validate inbound email. It is comprehensive, simple, robust and highly accurate. Cost is about $1400 for the appliance. A three-year subscription to the hourly update service costs another $949. This unit will easily support hundreds of users. You can see how cost-effective this solution is. Barracuda's specs say it will handle up to 500 users. I believe it. That's a cost of $1.66 per user per year. C'mon!
Microsoft Exchange spam filtering
The sad truth is that there are many companies who make
their living by sending spam. Most of these companies are well known.
The servers that generate the spam messages are well known and their IP
addresses may be found on freely available blacklists, like the list run by
A Excellent, Free Solution
I've been using IPCop as our firewall since 2002. It
is simple, roll-yer-own, stripped-down, Linux-based appliance. It is
easy to install and manage, and works just great. We've run ours for
hundreds of days without any interruption, hesitation, or failure.
It'll run on just about any computer you have laying around and it's free.
Learn more about IPCop here.
The best solution of all
In my opinion, the best spam filter of all prevents spam from ever reaching your network in the first place. I'm talking about filtering your spam before it ever reaches your Inbox — and it filters all viruses, worms, and Trojan horses as well. It's a service originally from Postini, now from Google (as Google bought the company, that lives on a server in cyberspace and inspects each email sent to you, removing malicious attachments and eliminating spam before passing along your nice, clean email to your server or Inbox. Google Message Filtering is available in a few different flavors, all of which are very affordable. You can learn more about Google Message Filtering here.
Help, I'm blacklisted!
If you receive administrative email messages indicating that
your IP address is being blacklisted, give us a call at 737-1000.
We've had good success in identifying what the problems are, getting them
corrected, then getting you removed from the blacklists. Everyone is
trying to fight spam (except the spammers, obviously) and occasionally a
good guy gets blocked. We can help.