New weapon in spam wars

GCN Insider | More power to spam filtering

In case you had any doubt about just how big a problem spam has become, consider this: IronPort Systems recently announced that it has harnessed the power of the latest multicore Intel Xeon processors in its newest e-mail security appliances to give them an eightfold performance boost in filtering spam.

The company, a business division of Cisco Systems, said it has bulked up its IronPort X1050 appliance because spam has been getting bigger and smarter, not to mention that it multiplies like rabbits.

IronPort's SenderBase e-mail monitoring service reports that the amount of spam has been doubling every year and now makes up about 90 percent of all e-mail traffic, most of it blasted out by increasingly sophisticated botnets. This spam is not just a nuisance. In addition to hawking knock-off jewelry and suspect hormones and enzymes, it also is being used to artificially boost the price of stocks so that some manipulator can sell it off at inflated prices in illegal pump-and-dump schemes. It can also direct the unwary to malicious sites where more computers can be compromised for sending out more spam.

At the same time, as e-mail filters have become more sophisticated, spam payloads have evolved from simple text messages to image spam and now to messages embedded in attachments in the form of Word documents, PDFs and Excel spreadsheets. This means that a typical spam message has grown in size from about 3 kilobytes to 40 kilobytes and a lot more processing power is required to inspect, analyze and block them.

The X1050 uses the proprietary AsyncOS operating system, which IronPort claims can take full advantage of the increased capabilities of dual Quad-Core Intel Xeon 5300 series processors. Taking full advantage of all eight cores improves system throughput by about 800 percent.

Processing power that in the not-too-distant past was associated only with supercomputers can now be harnessed to block spam. All because somebody out there can't resist a good deal on a faux Rolex.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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