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January 18, 2006
SPAM Is A Labor Intensive Problem For Small Businesses

I've always assumed that smaller business bore a disproportionate load of spam. It just sort of made sense that would be the case since they are not able to deploy the technology or the resources against the problem that larger enterprises are able to muster.

So when Postini said that one of its survey findings in it's upcoming Message Security & Management Annual Report for 2006 was that small businesses receive five times more spam per user/per day than larger companies when comparing smallest to largest companies, I said, "ah ha."

So then I wondered if the anti-spam tools and firewall appliances targeted specifically for small businesses were not up to the task. I didn't think that would be the case, and I didn't think that SMBs would be leaving themselves completely unprotected. Not even individual users can afford to do that anymore.

So I had to go back to my original assumption. Sure, there are levels of technology between enterprise-class and SMB-class security, but doesn't that have more to do with the size of the networks, and factors like scalability and performance? I must be a resource thing.

Take a look at what happens on our home-based systems. In the last year and half, I must have installed more than a half-dozen anti-spam products, and the results have become predictable. Upon installation, the number of spam messages drops off to near zero. Within a few weeks, a few spams start sneaking through. Within a month, it's just as bad as before the installation.

So last week, I asked Craig Carpenter, vice-president of marketing at Mirapoint, why this invariably happens. And yes, he confirmed it was often a resource issue. Spammers have cottoned to how these anti-spam applications work. If they change a name in the "from" field or change a letter or add a different nonsense word in the subject field, it may be enough slip to by. And of course, we users spend enough time just deleting this crud. But to keep it bay, someone has to continually block the senders, send in the spam reports, and stare in disbelief when, an hour later, the same spam message slips through under a different sender name.

Even a vigilant effort of staying on top of it doesn't keep spam at bay for long. Spammers have automated the changes that fool the heuristic engine and successfully send their unwanted messages. Blocked sender lists keep growing and the spam keeps flowing.

So, why does it seem to improve temporarily after you install a new anti-spam product? Because the products use different filtering and heuristics techniques, and that's the scary part, the spammers know it. You don't have to guess when they've mapped your IP address to a particular anti-spam technique. It's obvious.

Posted by Mitch Irsfeld at 12:16 PM | Permalink

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