Filtering Out Junk and Spam in Business Email

To Staff or Not to Staff: IT Options for Your Business
February 6, 2012

Junk email, or “spam,” is the bane of almost every email user’s existence. It’s an old problem dating back to the beginnings of the Internet, with the first known junk email sent out in 1978 (The New Yorker). Despite some victories, such as the recent lawsuit won by Internet giant Yahoo! (Naked Security), spam continues to spread rapidly around the world.

More than a mere annoyance, spam can have real costs for your business. Servers may struggle to deliver legitimate email when deluged with spam. Time and resources are eaten up when employees spend half their time deleting unwanted messages. Even worse, there’s the real threat that spam may infect your business technology with viruses and become part of the problem. Some malware incorporates infected computers into a botnet system, using your own computer to send out the very junk you want to stop.

But you probably already know spam and junk email is a bad thing. The real issue is how to get rid of it. While there’s no “magic bullet” available, there are several steps your business can take to stay ahead of this problem.

Spam Filtering

Spam filters work by scanning potential email for a list of preprogrammed parameters to determine if the message should wind up in a user’s inbox or not. These parameters may include

  • “white” list: addresses the user trusts to send email,
  • “black” list: addresses known by the filter to have been guilty of sending spam in the past,
  • rule-based rankings: email is checked for words and phrases commonly used in spam,
  • SMTP verification: check whether email is sent from a valid address,
  • country-based filtering: block email from certain countries suspected of sending spam,
  • challenge/response systems: sender must pass a verification test to send email.

While almost all major email providers (Hotmail, Yahoo!, and Gmail) have their own spam filter systems, a business email account should have a spam filter that is pertinent to that company’s needs. For example, if you do work with a lot of oversees clients, country-based filtering could end up blocking non-spam customer emails.

Making the right choice and setting the right defaults will require due research on the part of your business. Here at Cii, we partner with two companies that do a great job at getting rid of junk email for business clients: Sonicwall and McAfee MX Logic.

The Final Defense: Education

One final note on the dangerous nature of spam: even the very best filters may accidentally let some unwanted mail through. The number one vulnerability your network faces is the very people who have access it: you and your employees. That’s why it’s so important that your business keep everyone educated on how best to recognize and avoid potential traps. Good primers on the subject can be found in these articles from IT Security: “The Essential Guide to Spam Control,” and “Is It Real or Is It Spam?

If you have any questions on how to better protect your business email from spam, please don’t hesitate to contact us.