If there is one thing that has been proliferating as quickly as spam over the past 18 months it is the number of vendors with products that claim to solve the problem. Many organisations feel they can't see the wood for the trees.
All firms want to fight spam and the associated threats effectively and will look to resellers for advice. Quocirca first wrote about spam filtering in this column 10 months ago. A lot has happened since then.
Managing the problem depends on how you receive email. Many consumers and SMEs that rely on ISPs can now depend on them to help filter out unwanted emails through tagging messages as 'spam' in the subject line or moving messages to a special folder. The big ones, including BT, Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft, do a reasonable job of this.
Some ISPs that focus on the SME sector offer a greater degree of control by partnering with specialist vendors. For example, AltoHiway uses technology from BlackSpider and has an innovative portal for resellers, allowing them to create, brand and resell a tailored, spam-proof ISP service.
Larger businesses prefer to manage their own email. Ten years ago email was almost exclusively used as a tool for internal communications. The growth of the internet meant employees could start to communicate with customers, partners and anyone else via email.
There were obvious advantages to this, but also some big concerns. What if confidential or offensive material was sent out? What if employees spent all day sending emails to their friends? This led businesses to formulate email policies and seek tools to enforce them.
Vendors such as ClearSwift and NetIQ developed software products that were designed to check out-going email and ensure policy enforcement. We are all used to getting emails that carry a disclaimer at the bottom and will occasionally have received a negative response to the question, "Did you see my email?", later to find it has been blocked by an policy enforcement filter.
But today the reason a respondent has not seen an email is more likely to be because it has been caught up in a flood of incoming junk.
This has led to the development of a new breed of products specifically designed to filter high volumes of incoming mail at the network edge. Appliances are good at this, and products from CipherTrust, BorderWare and Mirapoint are especially popular in the mid-market.
But why let unwanted emails near the corporate network at all? For firms that are happy to outsource the problem there are hosted offerings from vendors such as BlackSpider, MessageLabs and FrontBridge. They can filter all incoming email before it touches a corporate network.
This has led many businesses to have two filtering products: one for outgoing and another for incoming email. But this is no longer necessary; most products, whether originally designed to enforce policy for outgoing email or to kill incoming spam, have now been adapted to filter email going in both directions.
While resellers can settle on one product that does both, they will find it advantageous to have a couple in their portfolio to satisfy the differing requirements of their customers.
These will range from those wanting a highly configurable in-house software-based solution to those wanting to keep the problem at arm's length.
A number of other factors need to be taken into account. Spam is not just about unwanted junk. Today it can be the harbinger of viruses, spyware and phishing attacks, used to overload mail servers and cause a denial of service (DoS) attack, and so on.
It makes sense when selecting a spam-filtering product to make sure it uses anti-virus software that is complementary to the in-house standard. Some spam-filtering vendors are particularly good at stopping DoS attacks and firms that are likely to be targets should take this into account.
But perhaps the most important question is, "How long will the supplier be around?" There are far more vendors than the market can support and consolidation is already occurring.
Spam-filtering specialists are merging or being swallowed up by security specialists, and some will simply fade away. When selecting products, a vendor's longer-term prospects should be a prime consideration for resellers and end-users alike.
Bob Tarzey is service director at Quocirca.
Quocirca (01753) 855 794
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