Virginia county fights spam

Virginia county fights spam

Arlington County, Va., officials didn't think they had much of a spam problem'or at least nothing out of the ordinary.

Sure, they got their share of e-mail from members of a distinguished but exiled Nigerian family. They saw plenty of messages offering low-cost ink-jet printer supplies and painless ways to consolidate credit card debt. But nobody was walking the halls complaining about spam, said David Jordan, the county's chief information security officer.

In November, Jordan and his team decided it was time to assess the spam situation. They set up a tutorial about spam on the county's intranet and instructed 3,500 employees to forward bothersome messages to an e-mail address.

Hundreds of spam e-mail messages began pouring in from employees. The office used the e-mail to create a blacklist of 4,000 keywords for the county's Novell GroupWise e-mail filter.

It turned out that the county did have a significant spam problem: about 5,000 messages a day, Jordan said. But because the spam was spread out among 3,500 employees, it hadn't been awfully noticeable.

The county installed Symantec AntiVirus for SMTP Gateways 3.1 from Symantec Corp. of Cupertino, Calif., between the county's firewall and e-mail server. Written in C++, AntiVirus for Simple Mail Transfer Protocol software runs under Microsoft Windows and Sun Microsystems Solaris.

The software uses heuristic detection to stop viruses, worms and spam, said Chris Miller, a Symantec product manager. That means learning to judge the probability of bad versus good messages, or as Miller said, 'spam or ham.'

People are looking more at fighting spam as 'e-mail hygiene,' Miller said. 'The threats are blending. Spam now is used as a delivery mechanism for Trojan horses, malicious code and viruses.' What was once an annoying pest has become a serious threat to network security.

The combination of the Symantec software and Arlington County's keyword filtering has caught between 130,000 and 140,000 spam messages each month, Jordan said'around one-quarter of all the e-mail the county receives. 'That's a lot of spam for the second-smallest county in the United States,' he said.

There's another weapon in his arsenal against spammers. In April, Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner signed a bill that makes it a felony to send high-volume unsolicited bulk e-mail. Jordan now notifies spammers of the state's antispam legislation and the possibility of a seven-year prison sentence.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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