Case study: Spam-entangled spanner in Watermark’s works

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This article appeared in the 16th March, 2009 issue of CRN magazine.

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Spam continues to be a challenge, not only on productivity but as a security threat and a means of spreading malware. According to IDC's ANZ Security Solutions Survey, 2008, spam was the second biggest security threat after malware (viruses, worms) in Australia, and third in New Zealand.

Gartner reckons spam makes up nearly 90 percent of all email received by businesses, and between 2 to 6 percent of spam emails contain a virus.

Companies will increasingly find their email blocked by ever-tightening spam filters. Gartner estimates that more than 15 percent of permission-based emails are blocked because of poor email "hygiene", and that 80 percent of businesses add to the problem by sending non-personalised, bulk email. Email response rates are consequently declining, with an industry average of less than 4 percent.

While spam detection will never be foolproof due to the changing nature of spam and its subjective definition, best-of-breed anti-spam products can be highly effective.

With this in mind, IT manager Mark Schmidt knew he had to stop the flood of spam at intellectual property (IP) and patent firm Watermark, founded in 1859, and the oldest patent and trademark firm practising in Australia.

Watermark has a reputation both nationally and internationally as a leader in providing intellectual property services to assist clients maximise the value of their intellectual assets. However, spam was beginning to threaten business.

"Spam had developed over a number of years to be a major problem for the firm," said Schmidt. "We had all our staff, more than 100 in total, wading through mountains of email daily. How public their address was determined how much spam they received.

"Our average firm-wide rate was around 30 percent of all emails falling into the spam category. However, the more senior attorneys and partners were being bombarded with up to 75 percent of their incoming email as spam," he said.

As email has become an essential tool for business, unfortunately it relies on an infrastructure that is inherently insecure, said Stree Naidu, Tumbleweed regional vice president for Asia Pacific and Japan.

"As spammers and hackers continue to exploit weaknesses in the world's email infrastructure, organisations are faced with a daunting challenge - protecting their networks from a barrage of junk email and inbound attacks, while ensuring the privacy and regulatory compliance of business-critical communication," said Naidu.

Initially Watermark was relying solely on the anti-spam features in its Lotus Notes email system to manage the increasing barrage of junk email, but the in-built tool was being overwhelmed.
Due to the large amount of confidential client information sent through email, outsourcing this task was not in line with the firm's policies. A robust, internal email management solution was needed.

Schmidt began investigating how to best solve the spam problem and conducted a market review for email security solutions that went beyond basic filtering rules and displayed an element of sophistication.

"I was looking for a solution that was intelligent. Rather than rely on keywords and phrasing, we needed something better that would recognise a network of sentences, a new patent file or intelligence file, and that would be able to distinguish different types of messages and characteristics of the message, not just words," Schmidt said.

He came across reseller Information Gateways, which provides internet messaging for the enterprise as well as file management, automation, monitoring and virtualisation software from vendors such as Tumbleweed Communications, which specialises in messaging and security applications.

Schmidt said Information Gateways had the trust of many large enterprise customers with secure, automated, mission-critical IT infrastructure. Customers include many of Australasia's largest financial institutions, telcos, large retail chains, government departments, and most of the large systems integrators and IT outsourcing companies.

"Information Gateways stood out," Schmidt said. "It selected Tumbleweed's MailGate solution as it not only suited our corporate requirements, it came strongly recommended from Information Gateways, a key alliance partner for Tumbleweed in Australia and an industry service provider well known to Watermark."

Tumbleweed showed Watermark its solutions were the best on the market, said Naidu. The vendor specialises in secure communication and its spam capture rates are reason enough for most companies to look at them, he claimed.

Tumbleweed's MailGate appliance provides a local customer support base with localised pricing and its approach to securing online communications allows organisations to ensure all email, file transfer, web interactions and transactions are private, reliable and efficient, claimed the vendor.

"Customers can protect their email networks by blocking malicious traffic, filtering content, enforcing policy controls and encrypting sensitive messages."

Watermark implemented the MailGate appliance with the Intelligent Edge Defence, anti-spam and anti-virus modules. Schmidt said that upon receiving the box the system was up and running in only an hour or two. MailGate automatically began to register users in the system, filtering their email and creating spam reports.

Schmidt said the whole appliance is self-contained and can slot into any network. "And then it is all done. You don't have to worry about patching etc. It is based on Linux, all you have to do is set and forget really. The system learns legitimate people, recognises them and starts sorting them."

The MailGate suite of products allows customers to implement effective email security through its ability to secure inbound and outbound email traffic and stop virus outbreaks, spam, worms, directory harvest attacks (DHA) and denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, claimed Tumbleweed.

Inbound and outbound email security is increasingly related and requires common management, threat protection, content filtering and reporting.

MailGate offers email security at the content and network levels to ensure that users' most critical communication channel is delivered safely and reliably.

With a claimed industry-leading set of email protection, content filtering, and intelligent routing capabilities, MailGate products also simplify compliance requirements such as MIPAA, GLBA, SOX, CA-1386, as well as custom corporate policies. The vendor claimed that MailGate also provides encryption technology that intelligently protects sensitive information - such as intellectual property or patient health information (PHI).

"The appliance-based approach is ideal for Watermark," said Schmidt. "It simplified our management of email, is a simple set-and-forget solution and is easy to troubleshoot."

When Watermark first implemented the Tumbleweed MailGate solution, it identified almost 500,000 emails per year as spam. In mid 2008 this grew to more than 1,100,000. With the level reaching an all-time high, the firm activated IP-based filtering, which reduced the number of inbound connections to less than half.

Now around 98 percent of connections to the MailGate server are blocked. "Even with 2000 connections a day refused, we still identify 60 percent of email being blocked as spam," said Schmidt.

"The MailGate solution allows our staff to independently manage their own email requirements and now they are surprised if spam emails make it through."

MailGate's content policies help to manage email moving in and out of the corporate network. For example, audio and video files are automatically withheld from recipients, who can pick up these files from the Watermark IT department.

Naidu said security, corporate policies, regulations and compliance are enforced through the Tumbleweed product.

"Unwanted data, spam, viruses and intrusions are blocked," he said. "File management, availability and IT processes are controlled and automated across virtualised environments.

"Organisations can leverage information access and availability on a wider scale via the internet and securely manage, automate and virtualise the underlying IT infrastructure to significantly reduce costs, gain efficiency and service excellence," said Naidu.

While some competing products are available for free they might only be 80 percent effective, said Schmidt.

"I would rather pay for a quality product and get a very high ROI as we have. We have already recouped our investment," he said. The Tumbleweed solution has saved more than 7000 man hours per year for the firm, or 135 hours per week on average. It also offers significant return on investment by reducing communication costs.

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