Picking Your Anti-Spam Poison: The Spam Series, Part 2

The onslaught of spam is spawning a growing spate of solutions, but which approach to fighting spam is best for your organization? Join Jacqueline Emigh as she reveals the pros and cons of the various host-based services, hardware appliances, and software gateways currently available for combating spam.

 By Jacqueline Emigh
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Everybody suffers from spam, but which approach to fighting spam is best for your organization? Experts emphasize that choosing the right product or service can make a big difference in spam protection. "Anti-spam technology isn't exactly rocket science -- but in a way, it kind of comes close," quips Jeff Brainard of Mirapoint.

"Anti-spam products are very complex. Products have their own unique characteristics," concurs Maureen Grey, research director at GartnerGroup. "Fighting spam is not an easy undertaking."

The anti-spam cauldron is bubbling over with more and more products and services. Some organizations are claiming positive experiences with outside host-based services, while other alternatives include software gateways and client-based filtering. For universities, SMBs, and others on lean budgets, open source software gateways like SpamAssassin and SpamCop are available free of charge. Another strategy adopted in some places is PerlMx -- a program that uses sendmail's MILTER interface -- for both virus scanning and spam filtering.

Administrators with more money to spend can also consider commercial products and services. Illinois Tools Works, for example, is a highly distributed and autonomous environment with over 500 different domains. The multinational corporation initially deployed an anti-spam hosting service among certain departments that requested such a service. Ultimately, though, users became annoyed when they weren't receiving all of their legitimate e-mails, according to Marc Pilano, IT director for the manufacturing corporation. In anti-spam speak, the service was turning in a high rate of "false positives."

Pilano claims that switching to Mirapoint's MessageDirector, a self-contained anti-spam gateway hardware appliance, fixed the problem. The rules in MessageDirector are customizable to either the domain or individual end user level. Ease of use is another big plus, according to Pilano. "You just put it in, and it works."

Meanwhile, commercial software gateways are being sold by more and more vendors, including Clearswift, Elron Software, BorderWare Technologies, and ActiveState. Some commercial gateway products are incorporating antivirus capabilities or Web page filtering or both, too.

Brightmail, Postini, and MessageLabs are a few of the popular standouts in anti-spam hosted services.

With so many choices, how does an administrator decide what, if anything, to buy? "You should look first at the organization's filtering requirements and then at the amount of money available. Next, you should try to find products or services that meet both of these requirements," advises Dan Keldsen, an analyst at SummitStrategies.

Before shopping around, here's a list of four questions you might want to ask yourself.

Page 2: Question 1: In-house Products or Hosted Services?

This article was originally published on Mar 17, 2003
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