Mar 26, 2003 (07:03 PM EST)
One Small Company's Battle Against Spam

Read the Original Article at InformationWeek

Say this for spammers: They're equal-opportunity productivity sappers. Companies of all sizes have been deluged with unwelcome E-mail. In many cases, spam is a bigger problem for smaller companies that have limited IT staffs and minimal IT budgets.

Take JL Audio, well-known makers of car-stereo accessories. MIS director Todd Sturgill discovered the extent of the company's spam problem the way so many others do--by deploying specialized anti-spam software. Think of how a small plumbing leak can eventually turn into a rotting foundation and you'll start to get a picture of how spam has snuck up on IT folks like Sturgill, who recently implemented an anti-spam offering from vendor Postini Inc.

Sturgill knew spam was becoming an issue for JL Audio. He had tried subscribing to blacklists, which use subscriber feedback to selectively block the IP addresses of confirmed spammers. But that created another problem: The blacklists were a bit too aggressive, and too much legitimate E-mail was getting blocked--a phenomenon known as false positives.

It wasn't until the latest in a series of directory harvest attacks--in which a spammer messages millions of variations of addresses in a single domain in order to create a list of valid in-boxes--brought the company's mail system to a grinding halt that he decided to get more aggressive, turning to Postini.

"I was hearing the grumbling, but when we went live with the system, we found that one-third of the E-mail entering our network was legitimate," Sturgill says. "I wasn't aware of the size of the problem." Postini's anti-spam technology uses a technique known as heuristic analysis, in which message characteristics are used to calculate the probability that a message is spam. With Postini's technology in place, JL Audio is now blocking as much as 70% of its incoming mail and storing it temporarily on a quarantined Web site. The company's 100 E-mail users can visit that site to search through their spam for false positives.

The system is working so well for JL Audio that Sturgill says one of the company's senior execs called Postini "possibly the first software that's actually worked." Postini is costing JL Audio about $2 per user per month, but Sturgill says it's money well-spent. In fact, he claims investment in anti-spam tools has become a necessary cost of doing business for any company that wants to prevent employees from becoming overwhelmed, depressed, and less productive. "I don't know how you can put a figure on frustration and aggravation," he says. "Is it worth $200 a month to not have to deal with that? No doubt."