SPAM filters, It’s not my fault you get SPAM I’m the one trying to help

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SPAM filters, It’s not my fault you get SPAM I’m the one trying to help

It’s so interesting because we have clients that LOVE software they purchase and install on their servers and the only time they call is when literally more than 1 SPAM get’s through per day on a single user.  Other people don’t like the very same product that much.  Part of it might have to do with how much the client is willing to train the product by putting the emails in the spam email public folders but I don’t know for sure.  Sometimes it is just the level of tolerance.   It is interesting to remember what “effective” means in a SPAM filter.  All SPAM filters catch between 60 and 90 percent of incoming email as spam.  The other 10 to 40% though can be hundreds.  Some of them are carefully crafted to go around very specific SPAM filter software.   It is sometimes hard to remember but it’s the SPAMMERS that are the bad guys not the people who are trying to fight the (*&&@#$*&#($#’s (fill in with any expletive you would like to apply to spammers).   The SPAMMERS work hard to get around everything out there.

So, anyway………..

There are three kinds of SPAM fighters.  All of them use lists of known spammers that change all the time and other criteria that also change all the time to figure out what is spam.  Emails are rated as SPAMMY in some sort of grading and the one’s that are most SPAMMY are not let to your inbox and the ones that are least SPAMMY are let to your inbox and the exact point where that break happens is usually adjustable in some way.  Sometimes there are multiple gradings as well.  The big differences begin with where the email is scanned.

  1. Software that goes on your server and scans for SPAM as it comes, taking care of it locally on your exchange server. (usually robust, lot’s of control, with control comes expense, this is also scalable)
  2. Appliances that you purchase as hardware and software that sit in your location but separate some of the spam before it get’s to your email server (more expensive and less scalable)
  3. Services that scan your mail before it ever get’s to you and separates the spam, from the maybe spam, from the we don’t think it’s spam.  (lot’s of ways this is different)

In the past the services have been cumbersome to use as you have to go to a web site to check your spam email.  This has recently been made easier by an email that comes to your desk every day that lists the email you should check to see if you want or not.  These services do all the upkeep off site so you aren’t responsible to keep the service running on the server, no more 15 or 30 minute billings to restart a service for instance.  All the real SPAM is kept off your server so your Exchange Server is less taxed.  The service has the benefit of looking at thousands of spam emails and users and seeing what is spam faster than the appliances or software solutions at least in theory.  Now that the convenience issue has been addressed we think the offsite hosted is the best.  We are recommending and reselling (at no upcharge right now) Postini from Google.  Hard to deny that Google is likely to have the best or one of the best services given their success in so many other realms.  The upside is once you are on it there are not going to be maintenance headaches with upgrades to a local piece of software and restarting services, etc.  The downside is it takes a little bit of time to get set up, likely around 4 hours of engineer time to get it set up depending on the size of your organization.

The appliances are the most easy to use but they also are the most restrictive.  You buy a certain size and if that get’s overloaded you have to buy the next size up.  They are not terribly configurable as well.  Each of the systems require you to think about categorizing your SPAM somewhat differently.  The off-site spam filters by necessity can’t call an email from a respected company SPAM.  For instance overstock.com or buy.com who both depend heavily on mass email marketing also have lot’s of fan’s that would not want that message to be called SPAM.  On the software you have in your office system it is probably pretty easy to tell the system that to you this is spam and let it take care of it.  In the hosted systems this is a little more difficult, not undoable but not convenient.  This is where using junk email from Microsoft comes in very handy.  It is very easy to see these emails and right click, “call this junk”, and let your outlook take care of these.  The downside to that is your outlook has to be open for that to happen so if you look on your phone email you might see them there till you get back to your desk unless you leave your desk outlook on.  This way, though, you are in control of the “special” spam that is your judgment call though not universally called SPAM.

There are advantages to all of the systems.  I think till recently, this is April 2009 as I write, the SPAM filters on the server were the best.  We are now beginning to switch to a time when the hosted SPAM filters is likely the best choice.

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