Corporate Spam Filters

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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To run a business and a computer network with all day internet access, without a comprehensive system of firewalls and corporate spam filters in place, is asking for trouble. Addressing the issue is not, however, simply a matter of quantity, of junk mail that can be thrown away with no harm done aside from having taken up space and slowed down the server. The picture is more complex and carries a hefty price tag.

The numbers for 2003 are persuasive enough. An estimated $23 billion went down the collective U.S. corporate drain in lost productivity and interrupted services in 2003, and 2003 was a typical year. Spam--because email is a major network gateway between a business and the global marketplace--is a significant, even critical, part of the problem. If it were not, sophisticated corporate spam filters and security solutions would not have become so much in demand.

The ratio of spam to legitimate email has risen to crisis proportions. The figure at the end of 2003 was one to one, that is, fully half of all email traffic was spam. That's a considerable burden on servers and software and an organization's resources. By the end of 2004, however, the proportion had risen to more than 70 percent. The problem clearly isn't going away. There's a reason that, as a budget line item, corporate spam filters have moved toward the top of the IT priority list.

Corporate Spam Filters and Computer Chaff

What's at risk? What do corporate spam filters help protect? For a start, the sheer volume of email can easily overload system resources. Millions of packets of binary data circulate throughout the Internet every second of every day. Just one email security service provider, for example, reports an email flow of about 230 million messages per five million end users in an given 24-hour stretch.

Email piggy-backing is the easiest method, the easiest channel, for IT saboteurs to take. That might sound melodramatic, but the threat is very real. Look, for example, at the Microsoft server crash that nearly caused an 800-plane pile up in early September of 2004. Corporate spam was not at fault, a programmer design glitch was. Spam, however, might as well have been. Hacker coding targets the weakest link, whatever that link is. The role of corporate spam filters is essentially to turn these invaders away at the gate, to prevent unauthorized entry into a network infrastructure.

The most obvious attacks to a company's computer system are the viruses, worms, and Trojan horses embedded in email. These can bring and have brought individual computers, entire corporate information systems, and nationwide infrastructures to a grinding halt. Too many organizations and individuals know this from painful experience.

Elements of Corporate Spam Filters and Security Solutions

On the one hand, then, excess email traffic strains and can compromise basic server and computer resources. A comprehensive system of corporate spam filters not only alleviates that load but protects your company data. Specifically, this means your client email lists, employee directories, critical data files, and operating systems. That's the beginning. Protecting this information against outside threats, against theft and misuse and sabotage, is the next step.

There are two fundamental approaches. One is to hire dedicated in-house staff to tackle the issue. That means full-time salaries for what shouldn't be full-time work. Another is to outsource. Turning connection management and content security over to specialists is usually cost effective. Security providers, after all, already have the sophisticated technologies and workforce needed to do the job effectively from the get go, quietly, behind the scenes. They're able to guarantee an organization the security and comfort zone to address its business.

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