Case Study: Taking Spam Off the Radar

Friday Apr 23rd 2004 by Jeff Vance
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No matter what industry you're in, your business is most likely suffering because of the increasing flood of spam. Find out how one busy airport took back control of their inboxes and their employees' time.

Unless you're in a throwback profession, say working on a lobster boat or picking coffee beans on the side of a tropical mountain, your business performance is suffering because of a common 21st-century problem: spam.

While experience and common sense tell us that spam is a nuisance, what is less obvious is that dealing with spam costs your business money, threatening your bottom line.

Consider this -- according to a recent report from Nucleus Research, the average employee receives a little more than 13 junk e-mails per day, which translates into six and a half minutes spent dealing with spam each and every day. While that may not sound like much, the time adds up, day by day, and when you multiply those costs across your business, the damage is staggering.

Nucleus estimates that businesses lose an average of $874 per employee per year due to the lost productivity related to handling spam. That means that for every 72 employees, a company loses the equivalent of at least one employee's services for the year.

Executives at Salzburg Airport Ltd., a regional airport located in the Austrian city where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born, decided that they couldn't afford to that much employee time. The airport employs approximately 250 people. If you plug that figure into Nucleus' equation, the airport loses the productivity of about three and a half employees every year to spam.

To deal with this problem, Salzburg Airport executives turned to Internet Security Systems, a network security company based in Atlanta, Ga., to provide spam and web-content filtering solutions.

Retaining their Uniqueness

At the Salzburg Airport, which serves about 1.3 million passengers per year, an employee's most important task is maintaining a high level of customer satisfaction. In fact, one of the key ways regional airports compete with larger hubs is by providing a better customer experience.

But how can your employees serve customers if they are buried under mountains of spam?

Airport executives knew that if they didn't deal with the problem, its service would suffer and the airport would risk becoming as impersonal as the larger airports it competes with.

Salzburg Airport has a unique network. Its 250 employees access the Web and email via thin-client terminals, which accounts for 70 percent of all their computer stations. The Windows XP server environment sits behind a NetScreen firewall, and Trend Micro is used for anti-virus protection. Employees use Microsoft Exchange for email, and the airport even has three Wi-Fi radio access points on the network.

''We consider spam as much more than a simple nuisance,'' says Thomas Knauseder, manager of IT security for the airport. Because of its impact on our network, we consider spam a security issue.''

As the amount of junk mail arriving in employees' inboxes grew dramatically, the network slowed down and so did employee productivity. Plus, in a thin-client environment, computing resources, including storage, are shared. That means that spam has an even greater effect on the network.

''We knew we had a growing problem, and we determined that spam was the second most pressing issue facing our IT staff, ranking right behind virus and intrusion concerns,'' says Knauseder, who also notes that spam often includes malicious content that can cause far more trouble than just annoying the administrator and employees.

After considering several products, IT managers at the airport selected ISS' Proventia Mail Filter because of its low rate of false positives, its accuracy, and ease of use.

''Proventia Mail was installed and set up in a single day,'' says Knauseder. ''It helps us to diminish the increasing flood of spam. And due to the success of this product, we are planning to use additional features of Proventia in the future.''

Continue on to the next page to find out how quickly the solution started to work.

Layers of Scrutiny

Knauseder says Proventia Mail began stemming the flow of spam from day one. Based on six different email analysis processes, Proventia Mail is able to filter out unsolicited spam, while also protecting users from junk mails with dangerous attachments that could contain viruses.

Using 10 different mail classifiers, the Proventia solution begins with a spam database that contains more than 200,000 spam samples. The mail filter recognizes the slightest variation of junk mail, providing end users with updates four times a day. Most types of unwanted spam have one characteristic in common: URL links. Because junk mail is all about advertisements, they must lead readers to a place where a sales transaction can be made, and that place is typically a Web site.

When Proventia Mail Filter encounters a URL, it checks that Web address against the vendor's database to see whether it comes from a legitimate source or a source of spam.

For those messages that make it through this first layer of defense, they must then face keyword analysis, a statistical online classifier, heuristic methods, and a check of the sender's email address against a database of known addresses.

Since the implementation of Proventia Mail Filter, the airport's spam problem has been dramatically reduced.

''Proventia blocked more than 15,000 junk mails in the first three months alone,'' Knauseder says.

Knauseder notes that with this mail filter Salzburg Airport was able to improve the working environment for employees and protect them from the dangers connected with junk mail. Now its 250 employees are no longer distracted by spam that is disguised as legitimate e-mail, and no one wastes time purging spam from inboxes. All that attention now goes where it belongs -- to customer service.

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