The New Zealand Automobile Association strikes back against spam

During the last six months of 2006 the amount of unsolicited commercial email tripled globally, with spam accounting for up to 85 per cent of all emails received. An estimated 62 billion spam messages per day choked email systems in October 2006 - twice the volume of October 2005.

The productivity drain as employees clear clogged mailboxes is a major issue - for all businesses, big and small.

Just ask Doug Wilson, the Chief Information Officer for the New Zealand Automobile Association. In early December last year, as the AA began gearing up for its busiest time of the year preparing to sort out travel plans and problems for thousands of genuine customers, its network was receiving up to 100,000 spam messages per hour. Yes, that’s 100,000 per hour.

The AA’s 600 staff were fed up with unwanted messages from China and Poland.

Says Doug Wilson: “Our IT staff was inundated with constant questions and complaints from users who wanted and needed a solution to the problem.” The AA had tried a number of anti-spam solutions and also had regularly changed its anti spam filters."

Says Thomas Layzell, AA Network Manager: “We’d almost given up hope of trying to find a really effective solution.”

Thomas says he was “skeptical and jaded” when he and Doug Wilson agreed to trial the SMX mail scrubbing service early in December 2006.

SMX is different from conventional anti-spam products because protection is provided at the network layer before threats enter the customer network.

There is no need for customers to install software or put in new hardware. Jesse Ball, Managing Director of SMX, says his company mission is straightforward: “We receive mail through the Internet, scan it for viruses and spam, scrub it clean and deliver this clean mail to our customers.”

AA’s Thomas Layzell says he no longer feels jaded and, in fact, the countdown to Christmas was untroubled by spam.

Says Thomas: “The whole spam thing stopped overnight. It was amazing. We had people who were getting hundreds a day. Now they get nothing.

“All we had to do was make a small change, which took only a few minutes, to automatically direct all inbound mail to SMX. We just said, “Do it” and 24 hours later we had no spam.”

“The whole spam thing stopped overnight. It was amazing. We had people who were getting hundreds a day. Now they get nothing. All we had to do was make a small change, which took only a few minutes, to automatically direct all inbound mail to SMX. We just said, “Do it” and 24 hours later we had no spam,” says Thomas Layzell, Network Manager, New Zealand Automobile Association.

Since the company was set up in early 2006, SMX has attracted an impressive client list, which includes the TAB, Sealord, ESR, and RHE and Associates - an independent IT company based in Auckland. Peter Gardner, Director of RHE Infrastructure Services (part of the RHE Group), was surprised by the actual amount of spam his company was receiving - even he had not realised the extent of the problem company wide.

Says Mr Gardner: “Some of our domains were getting over 80% spam. That’s a huge amount of traffic that we’re no longer seeing and no longer paying for.”

Why bother about signing up to such a service? And why not deal with the problem in house? SMX’s Jesse Ball estimates that dealing with unwanted spam in a medium-sized company of 14 employees costs a company $7,500 in lost income. He says that using in house IT specialists on such “negative” and non-income producing areas is “hardly fulfilling” for highly trained staff. It is also not cost effective for an individual company to install the industrial strength spam and virus engines that SMX uses.

Says Jesse Ball: “If 80 per cent of your mail is junk mail, why allow it to use up your bandwidth? Why expose your company to more risk (through viruses)?”

And for those people who believe spam will only be a temporary hassle, experts say it is only bound to get worse. Spam in Britain increased 50 per cent in the last two months of 2006.

Certainly spammers are constantly inventive. Current dodges include using images, or gibberish words, or passages from classical novels to confound conventional anti spam filters.

However, Jesse Ball and SMX co founder Thom Hooker believe they know how to stay a step ahead of the cyber criminals. The SMX team have around 20 years' experience in the mail industry, and Jesse Ball and Thom Hooker helped to build Xtra’s mail platform.

They have now built a platform which they guarantee eliminates 99.7% of spam and viruses.

Says Jesse Ball: “We deliver a clean pipe service. That means it’s all clean data so basically we stop it before it goes into the network.

“What is different about our service is that we don’t have to ship hardware, we don’t have to install anything, and we don’t have to change any networks. All we do is turn on the service like a switch. We can turn it on within two or three minutes. Once the service is on, a single phone call to the customer’s ISP reroutes mail through the SMX system.

“There are no lead times, no delay with delivered mail and you don’t need to be technical to understand how to come onto the service.”

Cyber criminals are constantly trying to hack into private and commercial servers but they are wary of “obstructions” such as SMX’s mail scrubbing service.

Says Jesse Ball: “What we are doing is providing that extra layer so that hackers can’t directly connect to a company’s mail servers."

Cyber crime is a constant cat and mouse game, says Jesse “but, the SMX cat is guaranteed to get the spam mouse at least 99 percent of the time.”

Tough odds for the spamsters and cyber criminals.

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