The Palais des congrès de Montréal has decided to deal with its spam problem the way many people respond to e-mail jokes: By forwarding it.

Under a recent agreement, the Palais has modified its mail exchange record — an entry in a domain name database that identifies the mail server that is

responsible for handling e-mail — to point its mail traffic to a local firm called ZeroSpam. Once it has received the e-mail messages, ZeroSpam then uses a variety of filtering tools to eliminate unsolicited commercial messages before re-routing it back to Palais users.

An avalanche of bad messages

Roch Magnan, head of IT services at the Palais, said the government corporation had been looking for a way to deal with the estimated 30,000 bad messages it was receiving every week, but balked at the ownership and maintenance costs of existing products and services.

“”Every year you’re subscribing, and on top of that, your servers have to put out the work to process the e-mail,”” he said, adding that ZeroSpam was the first outsourced e-mail service he had encountered. “”If I had known about it before, I would have done it before.””

David Poellhuber, ZeroSpam’s president, said the service grew out of a Web hosting company and formally launched in 2003. The idea, he said, was to create a clearing-house of the best technologies that can be used against junk e-mail.

“”The nice thing about it is that basically you have nothing to do,”” he said. “”Even if your whole mail infrastructure is to an external ISP, it makes no difference. The mail gets where it usually does.””

ZeroSpam’s service slows down the delivery of e-mail messages by only one second, Poellhuber said. Potentially bad e-mails are stored for seven days, and are usually checked on an exception basis, he said.

IT managers don’t want to see quarantine reports, he said. “”The whole purpose of filtering spam is not to have this productivity loss.””

In two days after using the service, Magnon said some users saw spam reduced from 1,000 messages a day to two or three. “”Like any filtering system, some good e-mails will go through,”” he admitted, but users have preferred to risk the occasional false positive.

Outsourcing the filtering will mean the Palais can offload what it would have had to use in processing power to other activities, Magnon said, and may provide an early-warning system against viruses as well. “”Basically you’re layering your defences,”” he said.

Poellhuber said having a centralized system means ZeroSpam will be able to extract intelligence from the spam it has filtered.

For example, common IP addresses, domains, relays, subjects and content could be identified and blocked more effectively.

Other early ZeroSpam clients include Avantages Services Financiers and Le Association Québécoise des Informaticiennes et Informaticiens Indépendants.

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