In a recent Quocirca survey for Computer Reseller News we talked to the UK channel about security. We found that most customers now consider spam to be one of the hottest issues they face.
Few organisations are unprotected against viruses, but many are yet to address the problem of spam. What can be done to help them?
Governments are legislating against spammers, but their jurisdiction is limited. Most spam is commercial; 'spamonomics' relies on the incredibly small number of recipients who respond and pay for the service or product on offer.
However, even if, through education, we could achieve a zero response rate, there would still be spam, because not all of it is commercial.
Most viruses are carried as attachments to emails, and virus writers want their digital graffiti to reach a wide audience.
They use clever 'social engineering' techniques to entice us to open them and trigger the virus. Some viruses are actually designed to use our computers as proxy spamming devices, creating more spam.
If laws or better education cannot stop this malicious activity, can technology help? There is a wide range of products available that can identify spam and stop it from reaching the intended recipient.
They operate by filtering email coming into organisations via Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP).
Software products, such as those from Brightmail, Sendmail and Sophos, provide more flexibility and can be installed at multiple levels. The third way is to outsource to a third party such as MessageLabs.
Vendors have numerous ways of identifying spam, but there are two basic methods. Some rely heavily on collecting spam in so-called 'honey pots' and defining signatures which are then distributed to their users.
Effectively this means they never stop an email that is not a spam, a 'false positive', but their detection rates are relatively poor: five to 10 per cent of spam makes it through the filter.
Others rely on heuristic analysis of the individual email. This means some false positives - typically less than 0.25 per cent - but detection rates are higher at 98 per cent plus. Some vendors use a combination of these techniques.
SMTP is not the only way email and other unwanted content can enter an organisation. Employees have many legitimate reasons for using the internet, and some less respectable ones. One big concern is dangerous content being downloaded or received via emails sent to Hotmail or Yahoo accounts.
To address all these threats requires total content filtering, covering both incoming and outgoing content.
Quocirca's research shows that, after hackers, most organisations see their own employees as the most serious threat to their businesses.
A single email sent by an employee that causes a legal action to be taken against an organisation can be far more costly to deal with than millions of incoming spams.
These products will allow you to monitor incoming and outgoing content on the different gateways that you allow your employees to use.
Outgoing emails with certain words in them, such as 'confidential' or swear words, can be blocked. Attachments can be checked for viruses or porn.
And if a virus should attempt to start sending spam from within your organisation the messages can be detected or stopped.
So next time one of your customers complains about the flood of spam they are receiving, solutions are at hand. It is also an opportune time to remind them about some less obvious risks they face from content crossing their firewalls.
To see the illustrations associated with this report please click here
Bob Tarzey is service director at Quocirca.
Tel: 01753 855 794
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