Help Is on the

By Anne Chen  |  Posted 2002-08-19 Print this article Print

Way"> Help Is on the Way

Even if some business managers dont, regulators and legislators increasingly see spam as a real problem and are moving to make it easier for consumers to opt out of unsolicited commercial and junk e-mail. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., is sponsoring an anti-spam law attacking false solicitations.

Taking a more aggressive approach, the Federal Trade Commission is enforcing established fraud statutes against e-mailers that use misleading subject lines or blatantly untrue statements, such as e-mail advertising miracle fad diets or instant sexual prowess. And in May, New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer went after bulk e-mailer MonsterHut Inc. on charges that the company spammed consumers with 500 million e-mail messages and falsely claimed that consumers asked to receive these messages.

Many corporations, however, cannot afford to wait until anti-spam legislation is passed. Deluged with unsolicited e-mail, theyre looking for technologies and services that will help stem the flood now. Naturally, a number of vendors have jumped at the chance to address the market.

Content filtering vendors such as Tumbleweed Communications Corp., in Redwood City, Calif., Trend Micro Inc., in Tokyo, and Vircom Inc., in Montreal, use similar technologies to filter spam. Others, including Postini Corp., in Redwood City, and Brightmail Inc., in San Francisco, provide managed services that take into account e-mail blacklists and filter e-mail based on frequently updated rules. IronPort Systems Inc., of San Bruno, Calif., and Inc., of Santa Clara, Calif., have taken the opposite approach by identifying and accepting only e-mail from legitimate senders and automatically filtering everything else out.

Even members of the open-source community are looking to cash in on the opportunity to fight spam. Craig Hughes, project manager for the open-source project SpamAssassin, co-founded Deersoft Inc., also in Palo Alto, this year to offer commercial versions of the popular spam-filtering program.

While such products offer viable ways to fight traditional e-mail spam, few are focused on stopping spam delivered to mobile platforms, such as RIM pagers. As a result, some IT managers are, for the time being, steering away from such devices. At regional health care system Pitt County Memorial Hospital, in Greenville, N.C., Michael Pridgen, distributed systems team lead, said his organization has been spared from spam by using alphanumeric pagers—which dont receive e-mail—instead of RIM pagers.

"Were not ready to deal with spam on cell phones and pagers just yet," Pridgen said. "I perceive issues with actually using newer technologies. Receiving spam on mobile phones is something we will eventually need to budget for and try to get a handle on in the near future."

Meanwhile, Pridgen is doing his best to stem the 30,000 spam messages his e-mail servers receive per week by enforcing user policies and deploying a gateway product that filters e-mail. Among other things, the policies require that users not reply to spam or try to remove themselves from commercial e-mail databases.

The organization runs Groupwise 6 from Novell Inc. on a Microsoft Corp. Windows 2000 server and has seen spam grow exponentially during the past six months, Pridgen said. The organization moved to deploy the ModusGate SMTP gateway relay from Vircom after IT found itself spending hours every week writing new rules to filter incoming mail containing specific words such as "sex," "porn" and "refinance." Pridgens spam policies also encourage users to filter their own in-boxes by writing rules within their e-mail clients.

ModusGate enables Pitt County Memorial to turn over much of the burden of warding off spam to organizations such as Mail Abuse Prevention System LLC, which develop constantly updated blacklists of known spammers. The gateway then automatically blocks mail from those sources.

Even ModusGate is not a completely hands-off solution for Pitt County Memorial, however. Because Pitt County Memorial is a medical provider, it needs to ensure that e-mail messages containing certain words common in the lexicon of unsolicited commercial e-mail—such as prescription drug Viagra—can get through. Thats because, Pridgen said, e-mail is a lifeline for communications among the 4,500 physicians and regional hospital employees, and his organization cannot afford for medical documents to be filtered and deleted. So Pridgens staff, in some cases, must edit and customize the blacklist used by ModusGate.

As a senior writer for eWEEK Labs, Anne writes articles pertaining to IT professionals and the best practices for technology implementation. Anne covers the deployment issues and the business drivers related to technologies including databases, wireless, security and network operating systems. Anne joined eWeek in 1999 as a writer for eWeek's eBiz Strategies section before moving over to Labs in 2001. Prior to eWeek, she covered business and technology at the San Jose Mercury News and at the Contra Costa Times.

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