Can Email Be Saved?

Can email be saved? One Interop exhibitor believes it can, but to win the war on spam, malware, and phish we will have to change how we go about fighting them.

“Spam filters are just guessing machines,” said Tim Lee-Thorp, vice president of marketing for Sendio, an anti-spam startup. “There’s a basic mistake in this approach, which regards spam as a nuisance rather than a real threat.”

That threat could be to financial assets, as with ID theft or phishing, to productivity when employees are swamped with unwanted mail, or even to network resources when false positives force organizations to store tons of junk mail for recovery or archival purposes.

“When spam was largely from annoying marketers, filtering made sense. But the typical spam sender today isn’t a marketer but an organized criminal,” Lee-Thorp noted.

Those who track spam, such as Postini and SonicWall, show an ever-increasing volume of spam, despite better filtering technologies. For May 24, Positini reported that 80% of all emails were spam. At the SonicWall booth, a representative handed me their latest statistics, which showed that spam volumes rose by 44% in Q1 2007 from Q4 2006.

Overall junk email – which includes spam, phishing, viruses, Directory Harvest and similar types of attacks – rose 24% over the same period.

For the average knowledge worker, though, things don’t look so bad – on the surface. The typical enterprise email inbox doesn’t reflect the nature of the problem. With a spam-blocking gateway in the network and some sort of client-side filtering in place, spam seems reasonably manageable.

The Forgotten Spam Victim – IT

That’s just the appearance, though. IT administrators know that the problem is deeper. Bandwidth is tied up, storage and backup plans are thrown out of whack, and when an important email gets lost, IT can spend hours searching through archives for that one false positive.

While I was talking with Sendio at Interop, a couple of their customers dropped by the booth. Erick Grau, IT manager for Khronos, a New York based asset management firm, noted that in the financial world, one lost message could be disastrous.

“If a false positive filters away a time-sensitive, important email, we might lose a million-dollar deal,” he said.

Another data storage issue is data content management and retrieval.

“If you’ve created a medical fund data store, you don’t want a bunch of Viagra emails in there,” Grau said.

Without a better solution that prevents spam from ever getting stored, while saving potential false positives for potential retrieval, data management efforts are undermined.

A second Sendio customer, the White Bear Lake Area Schools, which is just outside of St. Paul, Minn., also struggled with storage.

“We have about 14,000 email accounts,” said Chris Hautman, technology manager for the schools. With spam getting into the network before being filtered, it all became part of the schools’ ongoing backups. “Spam was the main reason our backup times were becoming longer and longer.”