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10 questions to ask about beating spam

Spam Word CloudAn anti‐spam solution is one of the most important security products you can buy to protect both your network and your company’s productivity. There are a lot of anti‐spam products on the market. How do you select the right product at the right price for your environment? Read this quick guide to the questions you should ask before you pull out your cheque book.

1. Is it “affordable” or just “cheap”?

One way manufacturers cut costs is to use extremely cheap components in their appliances, resulting in a high percentage of DOA (Dead on Arrival) and defects on arrival, as well as a high failure rate in the field. Another way they make prices look low is to showcase the low‐end models that offer only limited functionality – in reality you’ll have to buy several appliances to do the work, meaning double or triple the cost. Look for appliances that are stand‐alone solutions, providing not only spam protection, but data loss prevention and optional email encryption.

2. What’s the real TCO?

The other question to ask about price is what is the total cost of ownership. If your anti‐ spam solution requires ongoing management and attention, it means higher costs through the life of the appliance. If the vendor does not offer boxes that are designed to be centrally administered, you’ll spend even more time on spam management instead of other critical IT business initiatives. In some

In some cases you’ll also need to buy a completely separate appliance for administration of inbound and outbound email traffic, in addition to a separate module for reporting.  The best solutions offer bi‐directional email protection on a single, easy‐to‐use platform, with unified administration, policy management and reporting – reducing the costs and administrative burdens incurred, even when managing multiple appliances in a cluster.

3. Can I buy it from my trusted reseller, or do I have to order it over the phone using a credit card?

Some SMB anti‐spam solution vendors try to sell both direct to the customer and through resellers, resulting in a poorly organized reseller network. This means customers are forced to rely on the corporation for pre‐ and post‐purchase support over the phone rather than face to face, even if they are in a completely different geography or time zone.  Select a solution from a vendor which has an Australian group of highly trained and dedicated resellers who know your environment.

4. My company is growing. Will this appliance be able to keep up?

Many anti‐spam solutions are designed to handle only small volumes of users and traffic. Their mail processing systems can’t handle the high‐volume mail loads of an organisation with thousands of users or those with significant throughput environments.

Review appliances that are designed to handle high volumes of traffic without slowing your network down.  if your company really does outgrow your current solution, some vendors can enable you to economically take advantage of an loyalty trade up program.

5. How easy is it to set this product up?

Some anti‐spam vendors claim their products can be up and running in 15 minutes and require no IT expertise. But installation is usually not as simple as they claim, and many have no install wizard available for system setup.

Look for a solution which has a set-up guide and an intuitive web interface.

[Next: What about open source?]

6. What kind of support is available once I have this thing up and running?

Buyers should be careful to select products that offer solid, well‐trained, 24/7 tech support for their mission‐critical security products. In addition, some vendors offer comprehensive product guides and an online knowledge base available to you from anywhere, anytime you need it to help you set up, run and troubleshoot your appliance and services.

7. How many appliances will I have to buy to get complete protection?

Most solutions are sold by functionality and the SMB models in most product lines have substantially less capability. Important features such as LDAP access, end user controls, and on‐box spam quarantines are not available on some SMB solutions, forcing you to move up to more expensive systems just to get the basic functionality your business needs.

8. Does it provide automatic, uptotheminute security?

Will your security solution need constant fine tuning? Or can you set it and forget it? If it provides a means for automated and constant self‐updating, so that it is always aware of the latest threats, you’ll get better security and reduce your administration costs.

Many anti‐spam solutions on the market rely on a 1st generation (at best) reputation service, which in turn depends on RBLs (real‐time block lists) that provide a simple yes/no result for legitimacy of an email based on sender IP history, acting similar to a credit bureau which makes decisions based on history. But the RBLs are not updated quickly enough to keep up with the increasing volume and purveyors of spam. Depending on how aggressively you set your spam threshold, with a simple RBL, you’ll either get a low catch rate or a high false positive rate. If your spam solution requires you to constantly adjust and manually add new scanning rules to catch spam (because the engine doesn’t), you’ll further increase false positive rates.

9. Is open source the right solution for your security?

When security vendors base their products on open source technology, they are putting your network at risk. Spammers are motivated, highly capable people with a monetary incentive to engineer their way around your security barricades. They can reverse‐engineer open source security technology in order to bypass its detection of spam and threats, making it more open to hacking than proprietary solutions.

10. What features should I look for when selecting an antispam vendor?

Will your anti‐spam solution allow you to adjust your spam settings for your unique needs? Some vendors list features like attachment stripping, footer stamping, and body and header keyword search and market them as highly effective spam detection tools. In reality, however, those spam detection offerings do not allow you to set up even simple logic in filters to fine tune your spam settings or the ability to combine multiple actions on messages, resulting in legitimate messages being blocked.


Cost is not the only consideration when you are comparing anti‐spam solutions – total cost of ownership, support, ease of set up, next generation security, management/ reporting tools and a rich feature set are just as important. Before you buy, compare products to find the best fit and price for your needs.

Scott Robertson is the ANZ Regional Director with WatchGuard Technologies

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Scott Robertson

Scott Robertson

Scott Robertson is the vice president, Asia-Pacific, of Channels and Alliances at WatchGuard Technologies, a business security specialist based in Seattle, USA.

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