Spam dam Featured

6:30am EDT December 22, 2004
As at many companies, Key Bank's employees were being overwhelmed with spam. With millions of unwanted messages being received each month, productivity was suffering as a result.

"The problem was getting worse and worse for years," says Brett Young, vice president of workplace automation technology for Key. "We started hearing more and more from the end users, particularly the executives, who were frustrated with the amount of spam they were receiving."

The bank first implemented a word-based content filter to try to cut down on the amount of spam being received.

"We calculated that we were filtering about 37 percent of the spam coming in," says Young. "The word-based content filtering was primarily stopping the offensive spam with offensive language, but the sales stuff was coming straight through."

With spam still flooding in and a limited budget, something else had to be done.

"We started taking a look at the market at the end of (2003)," says Young. "We had no money, so we focused on those vendors that could give us proof-of-concept to try out their product for free."

After some market research, Key settled on a trial from IronPort Systems. IronPort combines Symantec Brightmail's filtering system with its own reputation-based system.

"We did some testing with it and had remarkable results," says Young. "We went from 37 percent to better than 97 percent blocking of inbound spam."

With thousands of employees, Key's e-mail flow is huge, so every spam message blocked saved someone in the company time. In January 2004, 3 million messages were delivered and 500,000 were blocked. In February, 1.6 million were delivered and 1.8 million were blocked. In October, 2.4 million were delivered and 2.8 million were blocked.

"The system sits on the perimeter of our e-mail infrastructure," says Young. "All e-mail goes through the devices. When they go through, they are filtered against the Brightmail spam filter which is built into the device, which also uses a sophisticated virus scanner. The virus scanning and spam filtering is all done on the perimeter. It's nice to block a lot of bad messages before they ever get into our environment. Everybody benefits from this.

"One of the coolest things about this is the whole project took about two weeks. That was from when we received the devices to when we were up and fully functioning."

Some employees were receiving 300 spam messages a day. That has now dwindled to just a handful. Based on audits, an average of 2.5 to three messages per employee per month get through the filters.

A big issue with spam filtering is something known as "false positives," or e-mail that gets blocked as spam that really isn't.

"False positives were a real concern of ours," says Young. "That's one of the reasons we went with IronPort and Brightmail. Brightmail has a low percentage of false positives. We don't take a really aggressive approach; we have a moderate approach when it comes to applying the rules. We probably let in more than some companies might who are using the same solution. We had to balance between what we could afford to lose with the tolerance for receiving spam. We haven't had any reports of messages being blocked that should have gone through.

"In most cases you wouldn't know about what you don't get, but I have to believe that if there were specific e-mails that were being blocked that weren't supposed to be, it would get reported.

"The whole solution was quick, easy and relatively inexpensive. If there are companies out there that are still experiencing pain from spam, there are tools that exist that make the pain go away fairly easily."

How to reach: Key Bank, www.key.com