SpamAssassin, an open source spam filter, easily outdistanced its competitors in the finalist round of the annual reader-based contest. Webroot Software, Inc.'s SpySweeper Enterprise had a strong showing as the runner up. Other finalists included Cloudmark, Inc.'s Cloudmark Immunity; NetIQ Corp.'s NetIQ MailMarshal SMTP; MessageLabs Ltd.'s MessageLabs Anti-Spam, and Sophos Inc.'s Sophos PureMessage.
''[SpamAssassin] doesn't just save us money. It makes us money,'' says Jeremy Howard, CEO of FastMail.FM, an Australia-based email provider with more than half a million customers. ''We know from direct feedback that customers are upgrading their accounts because of our SpamAssassin implementation.''
SpamAssassin is under the umbrella of the Apache Software Foundation, a non-profit group that provides organization, along with legal and financial support for many open source projects. SpamAssassin is used by corporate, academic and home users as a stand-alone spam filter, but it also is integrated into other products, such as appliances and email servers.
The winner in the Anti-Spam category uses techniques such as blacklist checking, content analysis, header analysis, and collaborate spam-tracking database checking to weed out spam.
Anti-spam products are increasingly important to the enterprise as unsolicited bulk email continues to hammer corporate inboxes, mail servers and IT workers. MessageLabs, an anti-virus and anti-spam company, reported last year that spam now accounts for nine out of every 10 emails in the United States. In 2003, spam made up 55 percent of all U.S. email, but it easily surpassed the 80 percent mark last year.
And that deluge of spam is taking a toll.
Industry analysts largely agree that spam not only distracts workers and wastes productivity, but it also drives IT managers to use their already-tightened budget money on extra mail servers and personnel whose only job is to deal with the flood of unwanted email.
''As an email provider, it's our job to make sure that our customers get all the email they want, but only the email they want,'' says Howard, who started using SpamAssassin three years ago. ''Simple message blocking at our mail server is not an option, since it could block some messages that our customers wanted to receive, so we had to find a solution that let customers 'choose' what they wanted to block.''
Howard explains that SpamAssassin provides a statistical score, which customers use to make decisions about which messages should be discarded, which ones should be filed away and which ones to keep. ''Customers frequently tell us how happy they are now that their inboxes contain less spam, without throwing away any of the messages that they want to receive,'' he adds.
Daniel Quinlan, vice president of Apache SpamAssassin, says their product stands out because it's a wide-spectrum solution.
''It uses a wide variety of local and network tests to identify spam,'' says Quinlan. ''It makes it hard for spammers to identify any one single thing they can change in their email to get around the filter... Plus, it's free software, so obviously that's attractive.''