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Spam Fighting for Small Businesses

Spam Fighting for Small Businesses

In the realm of well-known vendors, McAfee sells its SpamKiller product, which is built for consumers and small businesses. The $39.95 application has many preinstalled filters for companies that would rather not fiddle with setting their own.

By Elizabeth Millard E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
11/14/03 3:58 AM PT

As companies begin to pay more attention to eliminating spam, a host of software makers are trying to cash in on the trend. Especially in the last 18 months, numerous products have been created to vie for the title of most popular software, leaving companies to sort through the pile.

Small businesses in particular, always on tight budgets, are bombarded with anti-spam software choices that are easy on the bank account. While it can be nice to have such a wealth of low-cost choices, picking just one can be a challenge.

However, as long as a company can pinpoint what type of spam to block, how strong it needs the filter to be and what kind of extra work it wants to take on, the choice becomes less daunting.

Array of Choices

Although the anti-spam software market is growing, getting in on a good thing is not the only reason why the field is becoming more attractive to software developers.

"The reason that there are so many choices is that we don't have a clue what we're doing," IDC analyst Jonathan Gaw said. "At least, not enough to make a solution that's 100 percent effective."

The result, he told the E-Commerce Times, is a glut of software options that all have different features.

For small business owners, this abundance of choices could be a boon. A multitude of features means the ability to customize -- and when it comes to spam, that type of personalization is crucial.

What Do You Need?

All spam software does basically the same thing: blocks unwanted e-mail. It is how each vendor accomplishes this goal that should interest any company seeking to stop porn offers or those "deposed Nigerian prince" letters.

Most software offers a way to adjust filters, develop whitelists (for wanted e-mail) and blacklists (for hated e-mail), and quarantine suspected spam outside of users' inboxes.

Often, the more money you spend, the more features you get. Such features can range from support for multiple client-based e-mail applications to automatic bounceback messages to spammers.

"What you choose depends on the role of e-mail in your company," Gaw said. "For example, if you have a customer-service person who receives e-mail, you might use the software to deliver mail that only comes via your Web site."

He added that individual employees often have differing needs. For example, whereas a customer-service representative's e-mail can be highly filtered because it is a general address, that approach will not work well with other departments.

"For most of us," Gaw said, "we'd rather get the spam and suffer rather than risk missing an important e-mail."

One To Watch

Although a Web search for anti-spam products will deliver pages and pages of products whose makers claim they can vanquish spam, there are some leaders in the field.

Yankee Group senior analyst Laura DiDio told the E-Commerce Times that she is closely watching a company called Sunbelt Software. In the summer of 2002, the company produced a US$19.95 product, called iHateSpam, and was stunned by the response.

"They sold over 200,000 copies of the thing," she said. "It was so popular that they've now released a server version."

The iHateSpam Server Edition pricing starts at $395 for up to 25 users.

DiDio also noted that for small businesses that want to get even cheaper, freeware and shareware anti-spam utilities, available from sites like Versiontracker.com, are becoming quite the rage.

"People will spend money on very inexpensive utilities," she said, "even if they don't have anything in the budget."

Popularity Contest

In the realm of well-known vendors, McAfee sells its SpamKiller product, which is built for consumers and small businesses. The $39.95 application has many preinstalled filters for companies that would rather not fiddle with setting their own.

McAfee boasts that one of the software's best features is that it can be set up quickly and easily, so companies can get spam protection without expending too much energy.

Other relatively popular choices include CipherTrust IronMail, SurfControl, Postini and Big Fish Gateway Services.

Of course, no discussion of anti-spam products would be complete without mentioning sector heavyweight Brightmail, which provides anti-spam services to EarthLink and Yahoo, among others. The company's anti-spam enterprise edition targets larger companies than McAfee's offering, but small companies that have a relatively robust staff may want to consider purchasing software that can handle more complexity, Gaw noted.

Open-Source Choice

For any company willing to put in some extra time, there is also the extremely popular open-source darling, SpamAssassin.

However, Gartner research director Arabella Hallawell told the E-Commerce Times that open-source tools usually are not as effective as commercial applications and require more administrative time.

"Dealing with blacklists can be very difficult and time consuming," she said. "You can get decent detection rates with open source, if you don't mind spending the time. But it's better to get an anti-spam product that supports many different methods of detection."

Stop the Junk

If small businesses would rather not deal with software at all, they can draw on the skills of their Internet service provider to handle the work. However, the features offered by an ISP are less easily customized than an application.

Whichever option a company chooses, Hallawell emphasized that businesses need to develop a clear idea of what they are blocking and how much emphasis they want to put on anti-spam efforts.

"Organizations need to figure out their policies around spam," she said. "That means updating their acceptable use policies for e-mail and thinking about what types of controls make sense."

It is tempting to hope that the U.S. government finally will enact strict spam legislation that includes punishment for violators, but even if it does, internationally based spammers likely will escape repercussions and continue to wreak havoc on electronic inboxes. Fortunately, small businesses seeking to fight spam currently can choose from among a smorgasbord of software programs -- and their options are expanding all the time.


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