Brightmail app makes target practice of spam

Now that more than half of all e-mail is spam, there are plenty of products to fight it. Brightmail Anti-Spam 5.0 takes a unique approach.

The software runs on a mail server to protect up to 49 users or accounts for $1,499 per year. That sounds pricey, but in my GCN Lab tests the product succeeded in eliminating almost every spam message sent to the test network'without a single false positive.

How does the Brightmail Inc. software achieve such results? Some of its users have passed on fake e-mail addresses in their domains, or accounts of employees who left long ago. Brightmail itself also sets up fake addresses and watches them like a hawk.

The spam-watchers open all the bait e-mail messages that say, 'Hi, I am a teen in Russia, and I want to talk' or something similar, with the option to click for chat or click for removal. Either way, the spammer who sent the bait learns the account is active.

So Brightmail obliges by clicking, which keeps its 2 million honey-pot addresses hot with spammers. These mailboxes aren't really in service. No one is using them to sign up for e-letters or request mortgage rates.

But these fake accounts, according to Brightmail officials, get 2 billion messages every day'all unsolicited spam.

The company estimates that the honey-pot network receives about 10 percent of all Internet e-mail traffic.

Brightmail staff members, on duty 24 hours a day, can read eight languages. Based on what they see in the spam, they write 30,000 new spam-blocking rules daily.

The company pushes these updates out to clients around the world every 10 minutes, which is why the software works best on a corporate broadband network. The updates are fairly small at about 50K each.

In my tests, Brightmail Anti-Spam stopped all kinds of spam, even e-mail that gets through most content filters. It could eliminate spam with one large image and no text, spam with one large image and a bunch of junk text, and spam spelling Viagra with odd spacing. It succeeded because the company knows the locations of the free pages that host spam images and because spammers aren't aware that any of its 2 million addresses are fake.

One of my test accounts dropped from up to 22 spam messages a day to about one per week with Brightmail. None of the blocked e-mail, which the software can direct to a folder or have deleted, were ones I actually wanted. I also sent several kinds of messages myself to the test account, and none was blocked.

A few years ago I played a post-nuclear-war computer game called Fallout 2. In one scene, the Defenders of the Wasteland were beating up someone for being a spammer. I felt sorry for the guy. Today, I would pick up a lead pipe and join in.

Who knows how much worker productivity is lost from constantly having to delete porn messages, body enhancement come-ons and scam mail from fictitious third-world generals? Brightmail delivers a lot of service for its price.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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