Case study: Spam killer gives premium service


7 Nov 2005

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In businesses up and down the country spam has become a fact of life. And we’re not talking about the canned meat variety. What started as a trickle of unsolicited mail a few short years ago has in many cases become a flood, causing inconvenience to exasperated users.

The experiences of Brennan Insurances are probably not untypical. One of the oldest insurance brokers in Ireland, the company had up until recently seen the tide of spam rising to crisis levels. Its Dublin offices were receiving between 2,000 and 2,500 spam mails per week, quite a few of which were offensive in nature, while others may have carried a virus payload or else they were ‘phishing’ mails from tricksters.

This all changed when Brennan installed Copperfasten’s Mail Firewall Appliance (MFA) in its Dublin offices. There was an immediate reduction in all spam of 99pc. The incidence fell to an average of two or three single instances a week and these were mostly text based.

The company was introduced to the product by Pat Dent, an independent IT consultant used by Brennan’s. “We evaluated a range of products on the market, eliminating other vendor options on a range of issues from scalability to price,” he says. “The Copperfasten MFA met all our criteria, especially the ease of use and high spam hit rate. Also it added another level of virus email checking. It is no good having a spam solution if it is not easy to maintain and keep up to date,” says Dent.

One of the key selling points of the product is its easy installation, says Ronan Kavanagh, sales director of Copperfasten, a 10-strong Galway-based firm that develops a range of firewall and intrusion detection products. “The software is designed to protect users from spam, viruses, phishing mails and it comes in an all-in-one out-of-the-box solution that requires no configuration of servers.”

He adds that MFA requires low levels of maintenance, which is especially appealing to small businesses without a dedicated IT resource.

The product is also priced to suit the pockets of small organisations. Although fully scalable up to thousands of users (25,000 in the case of its biggest client, Dublin City University), the entry-level solution, which can cater for up to 300 users, costs €2,500 including all maintenance and support for the first year.

Dent is confident MFA will pay for itself within months. “We did some straightforward conservative number-crunching based on the 83 staff and the amount of time required to process and delete spam on a daily basis. It came out at €400 a week. It is just a sheer waste of company time and productivity and that’s without even considering other critical issues such as IT risk, waste of data storage space or the potential legal and social implications of offending staff.”

Dent has left nothing to chance. In addition to the MFA, he also runs another appliance firewall with virus/spyware/intrusion detection scanning at the perimeter of the office network and Symantec antivirus and Microsoft Antispyware on each individual desktop.

“Spyware originating from spam is a big nuisance for all IT departments and PC users currently,” he says. “It chews up IT resources and can result in inappropriate and offensive materials being downloaded onto the network. Copperfasten’s MFA enables the blocking of spyware that can originate from spam.”

Kavanagh believes not only is the incidence of spam increasing but it is becoming increasingly dangerous. “It used to be pure spam but now the virus writers are working with spammers. That is why it is important to use a solution that caters for both types of threat. The problem is not getting better; it’s getting worse.”

The good news is, as the case of Brennan’s shows, the technology is there to reduce the spam tide to a trickle.

By Brian Skelly