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Choosing the right spam solution.

The deluge of spam filling corporate inboxes has grown from a daily annoyance to a major drain on resources. Not only does spam now out-number legitimate e-mail messages, it is also becoming more sinister in scope, even carrying viruses that can cripple communication networks.

Dealing with spam can exhaust network storage, bandwidth and end-user support systems. Deciding what type of solution to combat this growing problem can be a daunting task for smaller IT organizations who may turn to a trusted reseller to help make this decision. After examining the customer's needs, the reseller can often help guide the customer through the maze of solutions available, ranging from service offerings, to software and hardware solutions.

Cost of Spam

In 2003, AOL reported that it blocked nearly 500 billion spam messages--an average of 1.4 billion spam messages daily. As alarming as this number is, industry experts are predicting that the onslaught of spam will worsen over the next four years.

Increasingly, decision makers are recognizing the potential financial damage to IT systems, which are unprepared to handle the expected exponential increase in spam. The Radicati Group, a market research firm in Palo Alto, CA, reports that currently spam costs a total of $20 billion a year worldwide in lost productivity and technology expenses and expects these costs will skyrocket to almost $200 billion within the next four years.

Anti-Spam Architectures

To deal with the growing spam problem, businesses must find ways to block incoming spam in real time while making sure that legitimate e-mail is not hindered. While there is an abundance of solutions available for blocking spam, there are only four main architectures:

* End-user software solutions

* Remote e-mail filtering services

* Enterprise software solutions

* Hardware devices

End-User Software Solutions

Typically end-user software solutions are inexpensive software packages that consumers can purchase and install directly onto their home PCs. This is an approach that many small businesses and home users take for fighting spam and viruses. With these software solutions, users can control filters directly and update their systems as often as they want, ultimately controlling the destiny of all e-mail--both spam and legitimate messages.

However, there are problems with end-user anti-spam software solutions. First, they use significant amounts of server resources, because all spam must be stored and handled by the mail server and the end user's PC. End-user software solutions are more hands-on, increasing the possibility of user error with complicated installation processes. One misstep with configuration can render the software incapable of blocking spam or leave it vulnerable to attack. Additionally, software solutions require manual spam and virus updates versus centrally managed update subscriptions often included with filtering services or hardware solutions.

Remote E-mail Filtering Services

To stop spam and viruses from entering the system in the first place, and to ease the concern of keeping spam filters current, many businesses turn to remote e-mail filtering services that can pre-process e-mail before it is delivered to the company. E-mail is delivered to the remote service first, and the service grooms the e-mail, rejects the spam, and sends on only the legitimate messages to the corporate server.

Such services can be expensive, and companies must be willing to let a third party have access to their e-mail. The security issues associated with sending all e-mail offsite are too challenging for many companies. For instance, financial or government institutions that deal with sensitive client or customer communications, must also follow rules set up by standards bodies such as the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) or NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) for handling these types of communications. When selecting a remote filtering service, these organizations have to ensure that the filtering service they choose also adheres to these rules and can do so reliably.

Additionally, allowing a remote service to manage e-mail communication increases the risk of losing access to e-mail altogether. If the server collapses at the remote site, companies utilizing their services for e-mail filtering will also experience this downtime. E-mail filtering services, therefore, introduce an additional dependency in the e-mail transmission chain thereby increasing the likelihood of problems.

Enterprise Software Solutions

Enterprise software solutions have been utilized for fighting spam and viruses for many years. Corporate IT departments can install software on the e-mail server or on a separate machine to process all incoming e-mail and eliminate spam either on the e-mail server or before it gets to the e-mail server. Unlike end-user software solutions that must be managed separately on each machine, enterprise software can be managed from a single location making technical support and maintenance easier to administer.

However, installing a software solution on the e-mail server can decrease the efficiency of the server, tying it down with additional processing time for each e-mail that passes through it and therefore increasing the potential for server collapse. Software solutions also entail a complex installation and OS configuration that usually takes several days. The complexity of the software solution is often daunting for even a large IT department.

Hardware Devices

In the majority of cases, the best solution is a hardware device that is easy to install and use and sidesteps performance and security issues. Unlike a remote filtering service, a hardware solution sits securely within the user's facility and under direct user control, but keeps spam and viruses from entering. Additionally, unlike end-user or enterprise software solutions, hardware devices do not entail complex installation or OS maintenance.

There are a few appliances, such as the Barracuda Networks Spam Firewall, that can be set up and configured within a matter of minutes and, unlike software solutions, can reduce the load placed on the e-mail server by off-loading both spam and virus filtering. Appliances handle millions of e-mails daily and can hold suspicious e-mail in its own storage for further review by a designated administrator or end user, without allowing it to enter the network. Because an appliance is external to the e-mail system, it operates without interfering with internal hardware or the network itself in any way, both in terms of filtering incoming e-mail and in keeping itself continuously updated with the ever-changing rules and guidelines for spam filtering. The only impact on system performance is greater worker productivity.

Hardware solutions can also include several defense layers, which provide additional security measures for each e-mail that attempts to pass through the system. If a suspicious e-mail does not pass through one or more of the layers, it is held in storage for further review by the administrator or end user. The number and types of layers included within each solution can vary. For instance, the Barracuda Spam Firewall includes eight defense layers including: denial of service and security protection, IP block list, rate control, virus check with archive decompression, proprietary virus check, user specified rules, spam fingerprint check, and a spam rule-based scoring system with Bayesian analysis. This architecture minimizes the processing of each e-mail, which yields the performance required to process millions of messages per day.

Buy or Lease?

The challenge is finding a solution that provides trusted spam blocking at a reasonable cost. Spam fighting can be paid for either with a one time purchase, as with software or hardware solutions, or with a service in which the costs are ongoing.

Most anti-spam and anti-virus solutions today utilize a per-user pricing model which incurs fees based on the number of users. This pricing model can be stifling for large enterprises and ISPs, and constricts any business looking to expand. As more users are added, the price for anti-spam and anti-virus solutions can quickly spiral out of control.

The Barracuda Spam Firewall does not have any peruser fees. Industry experts expect that this pricing model will dominate because of its simplicity and attractiveness to customers. Resellers and customers can benefit from this pricing structure, knowing that the price they pay up front will handle the number of users they currently service as well as provide for additional users with no more cost.

Bottom Line

Receiving spam and fighting it costs money. The good news for resellers is that they can now tout solutions that will eliminate spam by as much as 96% and substantially decrease the financial cost to customers. These success rates are only expected to get better as the technologies improve. Resellers can help their customers to understand the benefits and downfalls of each anti-spam architecture, as well as the costs associated with each solution. Doing so will ultimately allow them to guide their customers to the solution that best fits their particular needs at a reasonable price.

Dean Drako is president and CEO of Barracuda Networks (Cuppertino, CA)
COPYRIGHT 2004 West World Productions, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Internet
Author:Drako, Dean
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2004
Previous Article:Spyware: technology's version of big brother.
Next Article:Storage and security: why storage solutions and data security must go hand-in-hand.

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