Tom Copeland, president of eagle.ca in Cobourg, Ont., says unwanted and unsolicited e-mail, known as spam, is an expensive and growing problem for small ISPs like his.
“If it is not time wasted with staff who have to filter this stuff, it is also (the cost) of installing filters,” Copeland said. “We have been making great efforts to keep spam off the networks, but it is costing ISPs millions a month just to do it.”
Copeland wouldn’t give an exact figure for how much he was spending each month to keep spam off of Eagle.ca’s network, but he did say the cost was the equivalent of a full-time salary for one of Eagle.ca’s staff, “which would be about $2,000 to $2,500 a month.” For a small ISP like Eagle.ca, spending $30,000 a year to tackle spam can be burdensome. Major national and international ISP and e-mail service providers spend millions each year tackling spam.
According to a variety of surveys, the cost of spam is measured in the billions, either through lost worker productivity or the cost of technologies to filter and remove spam from networks. Because of such costs, outsourcing spam filtering is becoming an attractive option. Hosted anti-spam solutions work much like application service providers solutions. Instead of a company or ISP taking on the cost and integration burden to filter spam, a third-party does it all and the company or ISP pays a subscription or yearly fee in return for the service.
“Many companies feel it is much more cost-effective for them to outsource the work than to have their US$85,000 a year IT guy spend an hour a day or more on spam problems,” said Jason Salvagni, vice-president of business development with Greenview Data Inc. in Ann Arbor, Mich. Greenview Data offers a hosted anti-spam service, SpamStopsHere.com. The firm has customers in Canada and the U.S.
The service works by having users first input the domain name and the number of e-mail boxes the domain has with SpamStopsHere.com. From there, the system changes the e-mail MX records (this is identification code used by a company’s e-mail server that receives all incoming e-mail at the domain) so e-mail is first routed to one of SpamStopsHere.com’s three servers (one in Houston, the other two outside of New York and Washington D.C.) and filtered for spam before being sent to the customer’s e-mail server. Pricing for the service depends on the number of e-mail boxes a user has.
For a user with 10 e-mail boxes, the cost per box is US$1.40 per month or US$14 per box per year. As more e-mail boxes are added the price drops, so a user with 10,000 or more e-mail boxes is paying sixty cents per box per month.
SpamStopsHere.com uses six levels of filtering to remove spam, including phrase filters, pattern matching filters and country-of-origin filters. Users are encouraged to set up a review mailbox such as [email protected] at the start so spam e-mails can be reviewed. This is so users can tweak the service as some legitimate e-mails might be mistaken for spam. Users can identify those e-mails and then put them on a white list, to let them through automatically. Once satisfied with how things are working, the user can set the service to purge the spam automatically. In those cases where an e-mail falls into a gray area, where it does not quite match the user’s definition of what is or is not spam, the SpamStopsHere.com can flag the e-mail, look at it more closely and send it on to the user to make a final decision about whether the e-mail should be classified as spam. These ‘false positive’s occur in less than one in 100,000 e-mails, according to Salvagni.
SpamStopsHere.com does not back up or make copies of e-mail messages for security purposes. The log files only contain the e-mail addresses of the sender and the recipient.
Salvagni said the company’s employees sign confidentiality agreements to ensure no information about any user’s e-mail is divulged. If an employee breaks the agreement, he or she is liable for prosecution.
But not everyone is convinced that using a hosted anti-spam service is the best way to go.
Because some companies send sensitive material via e-mail, a company might want to think carefully about the security issues of a hosted anti-spam solution, said Pat Kewin, Canadian director for Trend Micro Inc. in Toronto.