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Surebridge joins hosted antispam game

Surebridge has joined the ranks of hosted antispam providers. Experts say such services can be an inexpensive way to stop spam before it reaches a company's network.

Application service provider Surebridge Inc. is the latest company to offer hosted antispam services. And, according to experts, handing off spam prevention to a service provider has its advantages.

Surebridge, based in Lexington, Mass., is offering CipherTrust Inc.'s IronMail gateway appliance as a hosted service. For $1.50 per user per month, a company can have its e-mail delivered to Surebridge, where IronMail sifts out spam using between five and seven different types of filters. When verified as legitimate, messages are forwarded to their recipients.

Mark Clayman, Surebridge's vice president and CIO, said the antispam service -- which includes header analysis, heuristic traffic scanning, whitelists, blacklists, content filtering and attachment filtering -- has almost no latency, meaning users experience no noticeable delay in receiving their e-mail.

Product of the year -- spam?
It's hard to believe that an IT scourge as notorious as spam could receive what sounds like an accolade, but research firm Basex Inc. has named spam its 2003 Product of the Year.

According to Basex, spam is worthy of the designation because spam messages account for approximately 50% of all Internet traffic, cause $20 billion worth of lost productivity worldwide, and caused Congress to approve the recent "can spam" bill, which President Bush signed into law last week.

"The product of the year designation recognizes technologies which have had a major impact on how we work using information technology," said Jonathan Spira, chief analyst at Basex, in a statement. "Nothing has been more disruptive than spam."

The designation coincides with the release of Basex's latest report, "Spam E-Mail and Its Impact on IT Spending and Productivity." The report is available from Basex at no charge.

Since Surebridge only stores copies of messages that are marked as spam, Clayman said that e-mail security isn't an issue. "[Normal messages] don't get stored on our server, and there's no record or log of who sent it, where it came from or where it's going," Clayman said.

The system keeps a record of spam messages so that filtering capabilities can be improved. Plus, every 24 hours Surebridge sends customers an electronic list of all the spam messages it blocked. That way, said Clayman, in the rare case that a message is incorrectly marked as spam, an administrator can release it from the spam filter with the click of a mouse, sending it on to its recipient.

There are a number of companies offering antispam services similar to that of Surebridge, including FrontBridge Technologies Inc., MessageLabs Inc., and Postini Inc. And for good reason, said Michael Osterman, president of Black Diamond, Wash.-based Osterman Research.

Osterman said that hosted antispam services can be more effective than in-house measures because not only do service providers ensure their systems use the most up-to-date filters and blacklists, but also because systems that are dedicated to spam blocking often produce better results.

Pete Lindstrom, research director with Malvern, Pa.-based Spire Security LLC, said that outsourcing spam-blocking can also be a good financial decision, especially for companies that lack vast IT resources, though it may mean giving up some measure of control.

"People will worry about control, but we give up control all the time without even realizing it," Lindstrom said. "If you're concerned about someone else managing your e-mail, then you better take a look at how it's being managed now. Depending on how your e-mail service is set up, it's probably already flowing through someone else's server."

Osterman said that hosted services can also help companies try a certain type of antispam appliance before buying one for themselves. Plus, spam is weeded out before it even reaches an enterprise's own network, saving network and storage resources.

Clayman said that its customers range in size from 2,000-user companies to one company with only 25 employees, though the average is between 75 and 125 workers.

Surebridge's service is platform independent, and it relies on a pair of redundant IronMail appliances. Clayman said its uptime percentage is close to 99.99%.

Surebridge, which charges a $250 minimum monthly fee for its antispam service, also offers virus scanning for an additional charge.


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