Spam tool mimics neural processes to isolate concepts

Ottawa’s Nemx Software Corp. Monday added a “”Concept Manager”” to its Power Tools anti-spam software suite that will try to imitate the working of the human brain as it sorts through questionable e-mail messages.

Spam is regularly

estimated to account for half of all workplace e-mail, though those estimates often come from companies selling anti-spam software. Still, the problem’s acuity has drawn the attention lawmakers in the United States. This has prompted some form of anti-spam legislation in most states, including Virginia, which holds a threat of prison time over extreme spammers. Congress is entertaining numerous anti-spam proposals, with punishments that include civil liability, regulatory fines and five years in jail. Microsoft Corp. has filed 15 lawsuits suits against spammers in both the US and UK.

But Nemx president JohnYoung said legal action is not a cure-all as spammers will simply go places where such laws are not in effect. “”People are going to see an opportunity to make money in some fashion,”” he said. “”Quite honestly, a lot of these third world countries semi-promote this because it brings dollars and cents into their countries.””

Concept Manager, compatible with Microsoft’s Exchange 5.5 and 2000, goes beyond the text of the message in an attempt to understand its underlying meaning. Young said relying on text identifiers to filter Viagra pitches and get-rich quick scams is somewhat futile, because smart spammers simply misspell words like Viagra to ensure the safe passage of their spam.

‘With concept manager, you can defines a heuristics level, the likelihood that word is there in different form,”” Young said.

Concept Manager, Young said, tries to look at a number of factors, from subject lines to signature blocks. He added there are less false positive s because correspondence concerning Viagra between pharmaceutical company employees would not trigger a spam response if there was no concept of selling in the message.

“”The mind looks at things and sees the opt-in clause at the end. There’s spelling mistakes in the subject line. There’s Web site URLs in there for more info. Concept Manager takes a step back and tries to determine the intent,”” Young said. “”If you can keep the confidence (of spam) high and the false positives low, that can be deleted in the first place.””

After intercepting a message, Concept Manager makes an overall determination of whether to allow the message to proceed, delete it or put it into quarantine for review by a message specialist.

But this is not the end of process. Peter Szabo, a message specialist with the National Research Council of Canada who has been beta testing Concept Manager, said that while Power Tools has proved effective in filtering spam, it has not yet alleviated the spam problems on his end. He said the NRC’s 5,000 employees receive 15,000 spam messages daily, up from 1,000 just one year ago and it’s his job to review all those on the borderline, which can number 9,000 a day. Szabo said the glut of quarantined messages is more the product of the NRC’s diversified nature rather than its Nemx software.

“”We have been using the software for more than a year and they have improved it a lot. There’s been five different releases and they’ve improved each one,”” Szabo said. “”The only problem I have is to go through the quarantine. It’s taking about a third of my time.””

Szabo said he would like future editions of Power Tools to leave much of the quarantine work to individual end users. Young said the software does have the option of filtering the message to both end users and message specialists like Szabo, but in order to rest more of the burden with individual users , Nemx will have to develop filtering rules that can be deployed to end user clients easily, something the company is working on.

Concept Manager augments Power Tools anti-spam features such as reverse blacklist technology and a virus manager. Just as fighting spam requires a mix of weapons from technology to litigation, getting the technology part right itself requires a layered approach, Young said.

“”On the technology, you really need an arsenal.””

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