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Trying to discourage email spammers

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May 30, 2008

MailChannels Corp. now offers new e-mail traffic analyzing software aimed at discouraging spammers targeting your corporate mail servers. While the tool may frustrate some spammers, the stop-gap might only be temporary, according to one security analyst.

Overall, 'Traffic Control 3' is designed to greatly slow down incoming e-mail from suspicious sources like spammer "botnets" by "tar pitting" the senders for about one-and-a-half minute.

MailChannels say that because most spam bots are usually impatient, the software eliminates about 75 per cent of spam at the network entrance and allows your enterprise’s e-mail content filter to manage the remaining mail traffic.

Ken Simpson, CEO at MailChannels says “on average, email spammers are notoriously impatient when compared to legitimate senders.”

He added “if we significantly slow down the data rate of the connection between the spammer and the mail server, 90 per cent of the time, spammers will just give up before delivering any message.”

While Traffic Control is freely available on the MailChannels website, users will still need to purchase a licence for commercial use if they receive more than 10,000 email connections per day.

MailChannels has sold Traffic Control to select enterprise customers over the last several years. However, the company is now turning its attention to small and medium-sized enterprises trying to reduce or greatly eliminate the flow of email spam.

Despite being marketed to work with popular open source spam-filtering software Spam Assassin, the tool works with any content analysis or email spam filtering system.

AlaWeb Pioneer Services has been a private customer of Traffic Control for several years after its spam volume soared to several million messages a day three years ago. The relatively small rural ISP said that because it’s been on the Web since 1994, its address and domain name is on every spammer’s mailing list. The company estimates that it even receives more junk mail than some major global enterprises.

Hugh Messenger, senior network administrator for AlaWeb said “the worst we had was four months ago where for some reason our inbound spam spiked from one and a half million to about 10 million emails per day.”

He added “the other day, when doing an upgrade, I had to turn off Traffic Control on one of my machines. Within 12 seconds, it grinded to a halt, because it didn’t have that connection management layer that gets rid of the junk.”

IDC Canada's David Senf, director of security and software research, said that the time latency that Traffic Control provides as an additional cost for spammers to do business.

The problem, he said, is that as programs like Traffic Control become more common, spammers will be more patient and attack the same vulnerabilities.

Senf said that while the software is useful for the time being, as long as there is money to be made in spam, attackers will continue to find ways around these types of systems. “In the arms race against spam, every weapon available to the good guy is good news,” he said.

“The challenge with this system is that it works best prior to a critical mass of customer adoption,” he said. “The idea right now is that a spammer won't wait, they'll go bother someone else. As traffic shaping takes hold, spammers will have to accept this additional cost – or pass it on to you and me. By that I mean spammers will step up their efforts to create larger botnets.”

“We could probably push SendMail to 20 to 30 connections per second, but I was dealing with 50 to 70 per second,” he said. “The connection management layer that Traffic Control provides can allow me to handle about 2,500 connections per machine.”

And for the time being, Messenger agrees, saying that Traffic Control continues to reduce the strain on his SendMail and make the size and speed of the inbound spam manageable.

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Source: MailChannels Corp.

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