Saskatchewan Research Council takes spam offensive

About two years ago, Ken Rideout read a news story about a man who successfully sued his employer for failing to stop the entry of pornographic content to his e-mail system.

It didn’t take Rideout long to get the message.

As network services manager for the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC), Rideout knows all about spam, the unsolicited messages that clog up inboxes every day. A user of Nemx Software’s Power Tools for Microsoft Exchange 2000 (the Advanced Edition of which was released this week), Rideout says the public sector agency has been doing its best to filter spam out. After an internal audit conducted last year, however, he says the SRC has come to the same conclusion as many other organizations: it can’t do it all.

“”It’s a moving target,”” he says. “”You’ll get spam from a certain address for maybe a month and then that address goes away. The spammers know that people catch on to where it’s coming from and create a rule from that address or keywords, so they just change that message altogether.””

The audit revealed Rideout and his staff revealed only about one in 100 were valid (or not malicious code or spam). Of that percentage only one in 10 were business-related. Though he says Power Tools has helped, the SRC has picked its battles and focus only on what the organization defines as “”offensive”” content.

“”Instead of getting 300 e-mail filtered a day, we’re getting maybe 50 or 60,”” he says. “”Checking through those, you’re spending 15 minutes a day instead of an hour.””

Though SRC employees are left to deal with advertisements, direct marketing pitches and other spam by themselves, Rideout says he expects staff to forward pornography the system doesn’t catch. “”It’s still a two-way street,”” he says. “”We ask the users to forward any offensive content because there’s no way you can block everything.””

John Young, president of Nemx Software in Ottawa, says many organizations find it difficult to determine how all-encompassing anti-spam measures should be.

“”It depends on the education level of the individual, but most of them want all spam gone, 100 per cent,”” he says. “”To be completely honest, that’s really not doable.””

Power Tools for Microsoft Exchange Advanced Edition includes a number of features to protect against spam and malicious code, including concept scanning that looks beyond keywords and phrases. Rideout says this reflects the changing nature of the spam itself.

“”What they usually do now is, they embed pictures,”” he says. “”If you look at the actual structure of the message there’s no offensive content at all.””

Young says spam is often used in the same breath as the word “”virus,”” which can be misleading.

“”It’s really easy to detect a virus, because the same pattern is there with every e-mail that comes in. With spam, it’s different,”” he says. “”You can put weighting on certain concepts, but all they have to do is change the subject, change the content slightly, and it’s the same message.””

The SRC’s audit revealed that Rideout and his staff were spending approximately $15,000 worth of man hours each year to handle spam. That translates into at least an hour a day.

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