Trio Take Different Tacks in Fighting Spam

Specialized tools can save time and frustration, but they require upfront effort.

Separating the wheat from the chaff in e-mail is tricky enough on a manual basis. Automating the process is complex and often has mixed results, but three approaches (see chart) examined by eWeek Labs can significantly reduce the expense and frustration of dealing with junk e-mail.

All e-mail servers and clients allow for substantial rules-based filtering, but as the amount of spam increases and as spammers become more clever, IT managers should be looking at special-purpose tools that are generally better at not only catching spam but also letting legitimate e-mail through.

Two of the technologies we examined work at the ISP or corporate e-mail gateway level, filtering out and disposing of spam messages before they reach users desktops. The other works at the desktop level and helps users set their own filtering criteria.

All three of these techniques will help reduce spam, but they are up against some highly motivated "marketers" who are constantly crafting their e-mail messages to circumvent the sophisticated offerings we examined. IT managers should thus expect to spend several hours a day, over several weeks, fine-tuning any anti-spam tool they use. The payoff, however, could be a significant boost in productivity as end users can once again pay more attention to acting on e-mail, rather than deleting their way through a mountain of spam.

Many of the products that act at the e-mail gateway also work for mobile devices such as Research In Motion Ltd.s BlackBerry because the mail messages are routed through an SMTP server. Aside from dealing with the messages that come in this way, we have not seen any products that are focused exclusively on blocking spam from mobile devices.