Anti-Spam Challenge Posed

Labs, service provider WiscNet team up to evaluate spam-fighting products, methods.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of anti-spam "solutions" available—be they stand-alone products or applications integrated with other systems. So how do you filter this virtual spam of products to find the one thats right for your organization?

That was the challenge posed to eWEEK Labs by service provider WiscNet, which is looking for a way to protect its customers from the growing problem of e-mail spam.

WiscNet—a nonprofit, membership-based association of public and private organizations with primary emphasis on education, research and public service—provides services such as Web hosting, e-mail, Internet content filtering, Internet videoconferencing, commodity Internet and Internet2. The organization is developing new services to meet membership needs, including an anti-spam system. WiscNets main concern with spam, according to Technical Support Manager Kika Barr, is not so much the amount of bandwidth and resources that it consumes at a backbone level but the effect it has on users and their resources.

WiscNets constituencies include elementary, high-school and higher-education institutions; libraries; and government agencies. As such, WiscNet needs a very robust, flexible anti-spam system that can be used to hold these customers to their very different (and numerous) accountabilities.

Educate end users

Anti-spam products can filter out the most egregious spam e-mail, but end users should also be educated on how to avoid becoming a spam target in the first place. The following guidelines should be considered as a part of an acceptable-use policy:

  • Use your company e-mail address for business use only.
  • Provide your e-mail address only to trusted parties.
  • If you do need to make your e-mail address public, describe it in a manner similar to the following: "eWEEK at ziffdavis dot com."
  • Dont respond or attempt to unsubscribe to spam; this serves only to validate your e-mail address. For the same reason, do not click on Web links embedded in suspect mail.
  • Report any spam that you do get.
  • There currently is no officially recognized "do not spam" list; signing up for a supposed do-not-spam list is likely equivalent to saying, "Yes, please send me even more unsolicited mail."
Working with WiscNet, eWEEK Labs Senior Analyst Cameron Sturdevant developed a detailed request for proposal that was sent out to a group of anti-spam vendors with at least stated ability to meet WiscNets initial requirements. (See full RFP.) In all, we received about 30 responses. The final list of vendors and products tested during our eValuation was developed through a joint effort by eWEEK Labs and WiscNets technical and management staff.

During the eVal, we wanted to evaluate anti-spam delivery methods as well as products. WiscNet was open to considering a hardware, software or service solution, so we chose two representative products in each of these categories.

It would be impossible to do a comparative test of every available anti-spam system. It would also be unnecessary—most are more alike than they are different. The products we evaluated in this package were chosen for a number of reasons, including WiscNets requirements, market leadership and eWEEK Labs analysis of the RFP responses.

In preparation for an intense two-day evaluation, WiscNet also developed a list of eVal judges, including representatives from the constituencies WiscNet serves. (See next page for a complete list.) Prior to the eVal event itself, which was held Sept. 9-10 in Madison, Wis., technical staff from WiscNet worked with the anti-spam vendors to set up the applications.

It was during the program, held at the University of Wisconsin-Extensions Pyle Center, that the value of eWEEKs real-world eVal program really became evident.

Vendors technical, marketing and sales representatives presented their products to the judging team. The judges grilled the vendors using their varied requirements: Can the product quarantine for some users but not for all? Wait, I dont want to quarantine at all—can you just take the spam away? How granularly can I administer the product?

Organizations can judge by the way the products performed in this eVal how a particular anti-spam product and method will work for them. In its eVal format, eWEEK Labs has tested VPNs with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, content management with USA Today publisher Gannett Co. Inc., mobile management with SBC Communications Inc. and wireless LANs with Cornell University. WiscNets Barr said, "This experience will help us make a well-informed decision on what to select for an anti-spam solution for WiscNet."

We will report WiscNets final decision, as well as its experience with the chosen product over time, in a future issue.

Executive Editor Debra Donston can be reached at

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