How to Ease Spam Threats

Fighting spam can be an all-consuming process. According to Victor Silva of USA.NET, end users can deploy a variety of weapons to help keep the problem under control, including software and appliances, and perhaps most importantly, training.

/images/stories/70x50/bug_knowledgecenter_70x70_(2).jpgLike a door-to-door salesman, spam knocks at your door unsolicited. It can sap productivity, clog precious bandwidth, soak up disk space and slow servers. After all, spam has become the leading source of malware entering networks today. Worse yet, such unwanted bulk e-mail makes up nearly 71 percent of all e-mail traffic, according to the November 2007 State of Spam report by Symantec Corp. And spam levels continue to inch upward.

From Politics to Pharmaceuticals

For small businesses with limited IT resources, spam can indeed be troubling. With spammers constantly changing their tactics to evade detection, it is difficult to maintain control over this ever-evolving threat. A look at recent spam trends shows that spammers are using increasingly innovative methods to deliver their messages to unsuspecting users' mailboxes. As always, spammers are quick to capitalize on current events. For example, they recently began feeding off of the housing crisis in the United States by sending messages on bogus refinancing deals, real estate offers and more. Spammers have even gone political as the race to the White House continues in the United States, using presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as bait for a Trojan.

However, there are a growing number of small businesses that are taking steps to mitigate risk and protect themselves against the detrimental impact of spam. These steps include leveraging a combination of proven security practices, employee education and antispam technologies.

No Soliciting

1. Curbing the influx of spam begins with an educated end user. Small businesses should advise their employees to follow best practices as outlined by organizations such as the Federal Trade Commission. For example, one of the first steps a user can take to control the amount of spam that finds its way to his or her inbox is simply to refrain from displaying or sharing their e-mail address in a public forum, including newsgroup postings, chat rooms, membership directories and the like.

2. Small businesses can also help reduce their exposure to spam by advising employees to not respond to suspicious e-mail; this includes instant messages from people who are not on a buddy list. Employees should also be advised to delete any e-mail they suspect is spam and to avoid clicking on URL links within e-mail or instant messages unless they were sent from a known source and were expected. Small businesses can further help reduce their risk by advising employees to avoid using the preview pane in their e-mail program and to view e-mails in plain text rather than in HTML format.

3. Timely patching is also very effective in controlling spam. Small businesses should keep software and security patches up to date. Although doing so is easier said than done for small businesses with limited IT staff, it is an important step in reducing spam.

4. Antispam software is also an effective tool for controlling spam. For small businesses with adequate hardware and personnel resources, antispam software solutions can dramatically reduce the amount of incoming spam.

5. In addition, a variety of antispam appliances, applications and services are available today that provide more automated protection against unwanted e-mail. For some small businesses, an antispam appliance offers a balance between protection and low maintenance. In general, these appliances are easy to set up and maintain and can be integrated into an existing network and e-mail infrastructure.

6. Finally, a growing number of small businesses are opting to outsource their spam protection. A managed security and e-mail hosting services provider can not only reduce a small business' exposure to spam but it can do so without the overhead and maintenance associated with other antispam approaches. The most effective antispam service providers offer around-the-clock protection and support, backed by cutting edge, dynamic technologies and antispam measures that evolve as attacks change.

As spam trends throughout 2007 have shown, spam is not likely to decrease in quantity or frequency and spammers are likely to continue to devise new tactics, strategies and tools for evading antispam filters. Nevertheless, small businesses can significantly reduce their vulnerability-and, in turn, protect their bandwidth, resources, productivity and information-by educating employees about how to recognize and avoid spam. An educated employee base, together with proven antispam technologies or services, can keep businesses a step ahead of spammers and their crafty campaigns.

Victor Silva is the Vice President of Client Services for USA.NET, a provider of customized end-to-end Microsoft Exchange hosting, antispam, mobile messaging and hosted SharePoint services to small, medium and enterprise businesses alike. For more information, visit .