Attack of the Spam, Enterprise Edition

Spam-loving Vikings notwithstanding, few people are fans of the electronic junk mail known as spam—an increasingly proliferating problem for individuals and businesses alike. Last week, I discussed the spam problem and a few of the tools I've used to combat this email annoyance; a week later, I'm still happy with the antispam tool I wrote about last week—GBS Design's Inbox Protector, a software solution that lets you manage spam on a POP3 or IMAP server before the spam is delivered to the desktop. In last week's UPDATE, I also asked for feedback about other spam tools, especially those that work with Microsoft Exchange Server. As always, Windows & .NET Magazine UPDATE readers rose to the occasion. Thanks to everyone who wrote in with advice. Here are the most popular observations and recommendations in various categories.

General Spam Advice
Many readers noted that the mail-filtering capabilities in Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express are less than adequate, and although I've spent a lot of time fine-tuning Outlook's Rules Wizard, I've run into bizarre limitations again and again (including one in which Outlook wouldn't let me apply color to any more email addresses because I had hit the limit—unbelievable). One possible excuse for the poor filtering capabilities is a lawsuit that Microsoft settled with an online greeting-card company a few years ago, which charged that Outlook and Outlook Express's junk mail filters were preventing the greeting-card company's customers from receiving e-greeting cards. (You can't make this stuff up.) Here are some other general spam observations from readers:

  • Many readers noted that the most draconian approach is often best. Whether you're using Outlook or a Web-based service such as MSN Hotmail, you can configure your system so that you receive email only from users in your contacts list. With this approach, you'll need to closely monitor your junk mail, but you can create rules for users you do want to receive mail from, and you can ease off the monitoring over time.
  • Several readers noted that they prefer Web-based email to Outlook or Outlook Express because using Web-based email reduces the risk of exposing their computers to an email vulnerability.
  • The product most users recommended was SpamCop, an online service that integrates with Outlook and turns the tables on spammers by letting you report spammers and helping you remove relaying mail servers from the loop. SpamCop is like a cyber neighborhood-watch program.

Server-Based Solutions
Stopping unwanted mail at the server is obviously the best way to avoid spam. Readers recommended the following solutions:

  • MailWasher, second only to SpamCop in recommendations, bounces unwanted mail so that your address appears invalid and deletes unwanted mail before the client downloads it. MailWasher has customizable filtering, and you can use the program for free, although the program's authors aren't above accepting tips.
  • Trend Micro's InterScan eManager is a highly recommended solution that provides server-side spam removal.
  • Contact Plus's Spam Buster is similar to the Novasoft SpamKiller program I discussed last week, except that Spam Buster is free. It's worth looking at.
  • SpamAssassin is a server-side tool that uses a complex series of rules to filter email. One reader noted that SpamAssassin will filter most newsletters unless you relax the rules a bit. This tool is for ISPs and other mail hosts.

Other recommended server-based solutions include Brightmail, Vircom's VOP modusMail, and the SolidBlue Spam Interceptor.

Exchange Spam Solutions
At Microsoft TechEd in New Orleans last week, I asked an Exchange product manager why spam filtering wasn't part of the base product, and he seemed surprised that he had never heard that request before. (I found that response disingenuous, frankly). Until Exchange includes this functionality out of the box, you'll have to rely on third-party solutions. Here are the most highly recommended solutions that are available today, based on reader feedback.

  • SurfControl's SuperScout Email Filter runs on Exchange, Lotus Notes, and other email servers, and is reportedly quite capable. SuperScout was the most often recommended Exchange solution and garnered high praise from users.
  • Computer Mail Services' (CMS's) Praetor also works with Exchange, Lotus Notes, and other email-server solutions. It offers powerful email filtering rules as well as a reporting and analysis module for analyzing incoming mail.
  • Nemx Software's Nemx Power Tools For MS Exchange (NMX-XSP) is a set of extensions and services to the Exchange environment. The Spam Blocker extension uses multiple Real-Time Blackhole Lists (RBLs) to stop unwanted mail as it enters Exchange's Internet Mail Connector (IMC).
  • Tumbleweed Communications' Tumbleweed Secure Mail (formerly Worldsecure) is another solution that apparently works well.

Other recommended Exchange solutions include Clearswift ES and Clearswift MAILsweeper for Exchange. You'll find both products here.

Spam filtering, like antivirus functionality, (arguably) should be part of the base product, and maybe some day it will be. But until that day arrives, you don't have to put up with mountains of unwanted mail. Regardless of how you manage your email, solutions are available to help you combat this problem. Frankly, I'm surprised that I was able to find such a complete and worthy solution so quickly. Good luck finding yours.

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