FRAMINGHAM (02/13/2004) - Increasing volumes of spam and the growing demand for anti-spam solutions has generated an unprecedented influx of players into the anti-spam market. While this is positive in that it provides healthy competition, it also generates a great deal of confusion and frustration among customers who find it challenging to develop a set of guidelines that can help them assess which vendor will provide the best long-term anti-spam protection strategy.
According to our latest corporate survey, 94 percent of users indicated that spam is a serious problem, however 43 percent of them had no formal anti-spam protection in place. In addition, almost none of the anti-spam players to date has been able to create a powerful brand name. According to our survey, participants identified over 30 providers, yet no single provider was used by more than 6 percent of the survey's participants.
To help companies sort out the overwhelming number of products and services available, we have narrowed down the market to five solutions, which we believe represent the best solutions today, but are also best positioned to evolve their capabilities in the future to provide a broad range of secure messaging services beyond just spam control.
Our recommended top five picks for 2004 are: Clearswift Ltd., Cloudmark Inc., Postini Inc., SurfControl PLC and Tumbleweed Communications Corp.
How We Picked These Five
As part of our selection process, we have looked at a combination of key factors -- each company's history, its present state and its future potential. The key criteria which we used in picking our recommended top five players included the following:
- Current state of technology (platforms, capabilities and features)
- Flexibility and quality of add-on features
- Ease of use and maintenance
- The rate of delivering updates and new versions (including both consistency and frequency).
Vision and Innovation
- The rate of success in designing and introducing new features and capabilities
- Partnerships with leading companies to offer customers more comprehensive solutions
- Quick adaptation to market changes, such as newer, more destructive spam attacks.
- The number of years in business
- The number and size of customers
- The percentage of customers renewing their licenses each year
- The acquisition rate of new customers.
- Financing terms and how well the company is meeting its financial goals.
Note: The companies chosen for our list are not the only providers that we recommend to our customers to consider in 2004. However, the providers chosen, in our opinion, offer the best combination of innovative technology, vision and proven history that we would like any good anti-spam company to offer its customers. We encourage customers to look at these providers as part of their selection process.
Founded in the UK as NET-TEL, Bellevue, Wash.-based Clearswift has been in the market longer than most of its competitors -- the company's history spans more than 20 years. Its major expansion within the content filtering space happened in March 2002, with the acquisition of Content Technologies, which contributed the popular MIMEsweeper line of content filtering products. Clearswift is a global player with 260 employees and a presence in 15 countries. Among its 12,300 customers are AT&T Corp., Bank of America Corp., Cadbury Schweppes, European Commission, KPMG, Lloyds TSB, Marks & Spencer PLC, NATO, Pfizer Inc., Rolls Royce, Vodafone Group PLC and many others. Clearswift estimates that it has about 11 million licensed users, with North America being its fastest growing region.
To give customers a choice of best-of-breed solutions, Clearswift works with a number of anti-virus vendors, such as F-Secure Corp., Network Associates Inc., Sophos PLC, Symantec Corp. and others, enabling integration of anti- virus offerings with Clearswift products.
The MIMEsweeper family of products (distributed through partners and used by over 12,000 customers) consists of dynamic policy-based content management solutions that include the following:
CS MAILsweeper for SMT: Originally launched in 1996, this gateway-based solution examines all incoming and outgoing messages, filtering e- mails based on their content, destination, and source, blocking or quarantining all messages that include inappropriate content, are classified as spam, and/or contain MP3, AVIs, MPEGs and other executable file attachments or large files that can potentially congest the network. SpamActive service provides automatic daily updates of the latest spam signature files. Besides the SMTP version, there are versions for Exchange and Domino. MAILsweeper comes with a number of add-on products, including CS SECRETsweeper (encryption and decryption, and digital signing of select e-mails); CS IMAGEmanager (to detect pornographic, confidential images and images protected by intellectual property laws); CS e-Sweeper (enables service providers to offer fully hosted content security services for their customers).
For large corporations ClearSwift offers ENTEPRISEsuite, which includes ClearEdge (to block messages that don't comply with corporate policies by using text analysis and file type assessment), ClearBase for Exchange and Domino (content filtering for internal mail systems), ClearSurf (to enforce policies for utilization of HTTP/FTP traffic within their organizations), and others.
Based in San Francisco, Cloudmark takes a different approach to spam control. Instead of creating filters that use heuristic and lexical analysis, it offers a peer-to-peer solution SpamNet, which enables users to automatically submit messages that they think are spam to Cloudmark's servers, which generate signature files to block all similar messages for the rest of the SpamNet users. Offered to small businesses and individuals and processing more than 180 million messages every day, SpamNet has over 700,000 users. First introduced in 1998, its database of spam messages contains more than 90 million samples in a number of languages. In 2002, Cloudmark unveiled Authority, a gateway solution for larger corporations.
Introduced in November 2002, Authority is a gateway-based solution that evaluates messages by looking at patterns and mutations in the message structure called spamGenes. These 300 spamGenes, generated from the spamDNA (gathered from input from SpamNet users), focus on the structure of spam messages rather than words or characteristics in the messages. Installed on the Gateway Message Transfer Agent (MTA), it has a very low impact on its performance, which ranges between 5 percent and 10 percent.
Even though Authority's filters use the input of SpamNet users, all corporate messages are filtered on corporate premises, and the solution doesn't require to be connected to the Internet. Authority customers can choose to receive updates every 30 to 60 days, which are delivered in the form of spamDNA cartridges.
SpamNet is a service that instead of using special filters and lexical analysis relies on individual users (over 700,000 members) to identify spam messages. Offered as a free download, it works as an add-on to Outlook 2000/XP, Outlook Express and Lotus Notes, installing Block and Unblock buttons on the toolbar. After a user receives a spam message, he or she hits the Block button that moves the message to the Spam folder, as well as automatically reports it to the Cloudmark servers, which tag similar messages for the rest of the community. To prevent certain messages from being blocked by other users, each participant can also create an individual whitelist.
Founded in 1999, Postini offers proprietary anti-spam and content filtering services for corporations and service providers, filtering out spam before it reaches corporate e- mail servers and end users. Postini, based in Redwood City, Calif., has the capacity to process 45-to-50 million messages per day, with an uptime of 99.9 percent. Besides blocking spam messages, the company also shields customer networks from Directory Harvest Attacks (DHAs), precluding spammers from identifying valid corporate e- mail addresses.
With 50 employees, Postini is primarily focused on the North American market. It serves over 900 companies with 3 million dedicated users, 99 percent of whom reportedly renew their annual subscription contracts. Since January 2002, Postini has also been using Network Associates' McAfee anti-virus engine to offer customers a complete secure messaging suite. Among some of Postini's customers are Bingham McCutchen, Carrier Hotels, DPR Construction, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Digital Fountain and many others. At the same time, Postini also licenses its own technology to be used in its partners' products.
Postini's hosted service, Postini Perimeter Manager was introduced in October 2002. With a heuristic engine, it stops over 95 percent of spam and malicious messages before they hit corporate e-mail servers and end users' inboxes. Postini's filters enable companies not only to block specific categories, but also select a level for each category (from blocking all content that even slightly relates to a category, to blocking only content that definitely belongs to a certain category). The other filters used by Postini are black and white lists that can be customized by administrators and end users.
Besides protecting users from spam and viruses, Postini also safeguards its customers by preventing DHA and mail bombs. As an optional service for companies with multiple physical locations, Postini Resource Manager, offers loadbalanced delivery, throttled delivery, as well as automatic redirection of messages to other servers, when needed. Besides corporations, Postini also offers a similar hosted service to service providers, called Postini Network edition.
Founded in 1998, SurfControl plc. offers platform-independent, customizable content filtering solutions to companies, service providers and consumers. Originally focused only on Web filtering technology, the Scotts Valley, Calif.-based company added e-mail filtering in 2000 and instant message filtering in 2003, to provide its customers with a more comprehensive solution. Besides licensing its own technology, since July 2002 SurfControl also offers integrated McAfee's anti-virus solution with its SurfControl E-mail Filter.
A public company with nearly 450 employees, SurfControl has nine offices around the world, covering the U.S., Europe and Asia/Pacific. Geographically, the U.S. market brings in most of the revenue (about 75 percent), followed by Europe with 21 percent and the rest of the world (4 percent). SurfControl solutions are offered through its direct sales force and partners (who account for about 46 percent of the vendor's total sales). The majority of SurfControl customers are corporations and OEMs (83 percent). Educational institutions represent 16 percent, and home users about 1 percent. Among some of its large corporate customers are Daiwa Bank, MetLife Investors, Northrop Grumman, Sony (UK), Zurich North America and many others.
SurfControl E-mail Filter: Designed to filter outgoing, incoming and internal e-mail, the E-mail Filter uses e-mail dictionaries with 16 pre-defined categories, including Adult, Alcohol/Tobacco/Drugs, Arts/Entertainment, Computing/Internet/Hacking, Confidential, Finance, Gambling, Hate Speech/Offensive, Job Search, Medical/Healthcare, Shopping, Spam, Spam Misspellings, Sports, Travel and Violence/Weapons. Companies can either use words from these pre-defined categories, or create their own. All junk e-mail messages are filtered out by the Anti-Spam Agent that scans e-mails and attachments, authenticating digital signatures. A standard E-mail Filter feature is the Virtual Learning Agent (VLA), a content filtering tool that filters out content specific to each company by using artificial intelligence. An add-on tool, Virtual Image Agent (VIA), helps companies filter out adult images.
Founded in 1993, Tumbleweed Communications Corp. has been in the secure Internet communications business for almost a decade. In January 2000, Tumbleweed expanded its portfolio of security solutions with anti-spam and content filtering technology by acquiring Worldtalk Corporation. Public since 1999, Tumbleweed is headquartered in Redwood City, Calif., and has partners in Europe, Asia and Australia. Tumbleweed has over 700 customers, including Bank of America Securities, JP Morgan Chase & Co., U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Navy and many others.
Besides its direct sales force, Tumbleweed also has agreements with over 60 resellers around the world. The majority of its sales come from the U.S. market (about 70 percent), and the rest is mostly shared by Japan and the UK.
Tumbleweed E-mail Firewall: manages your mission-critical e-mail stream with an integrated set of anti-spam, anti- virus, antihacker, content filtering, policy enforcement and secure messaging capabilities.
Dynamic Anti-spam Service (DAS): is an Internet-based subscription service that updates the Tumbleweed E-mail Firewall with new heuristic defenses as they are published, similar to the way anti-virus engines work. The e-mail firewall includes a Spam Analysis Engine, which automates the identification of spam using heuristics-based analysis technology. Tumbleweed's Message Protection Lab develops and publishes the heuristic updates: the Lab analyzes both spam and legitimate e-mail gathered internationally and provided by enterprise customers, to ensure that the Dynamic Anti-spam Service minimizes false positives in a business environment.
Tumbleweed E-mail Firewall Appliance: The MMS Appliance is a gateway server in a rack-mounted chassis. All of the software components come preloaded, including the MMS 5.6 software, Dynamic anti-spam service, and the Windows 2000 operating system and SQL Server 2000 database (both hardened with the latest security updates).
Customers often don't spend enough time selecting a provider since there are no clear guidelines against which they can easily evaluate anti-spam companies. While antispam solutions are not expensive to acquire, a solution that is not properly deployed can be very expensive to maintain and costly to replace. At a minimum, we recommend selecting a provider that has a flexible and easily customizable offering, as well as a track record of delivering great service. The provider chosen should also have an ability to provide other secure messaging services, such as anti-virus, content filtering, etc. -- either directly or through partners.
Our list of top five companies contains both vendors and service providers. All offer a sound product or service today as well as a sound technological basis on which to evolve their products in the future to meet evolving concerns.