E-mail spam eats up cable’s bandwidth, wastes server space and—worst of all—annoys valuable customers. Unfiltered spam can sit on servers for ages—until consumers check their e-mail and presumably delete it. So MSOs that filter spam before it gets into in-boxes can save big money and improve the high-speed customer’s experience. Nevertheless, some MSOs aren’t doing all they can to filter out spam. Vendors who sell anti-spam tools to service providers say some MSOs are reluctant to attack spam at the enterprise level out of fear that the filters could block legitimate traffic. "Operators are struggling with [e-mail spam] and looking for a solution," says Jamie de Guerre, technical director for program management at Cloudmark, a San Francisco-based anti-spam technology developer. Cloudmark, whose MSO customers include Adelphia and Cox, estimates that spam parked in e-mail accounts costs Internet service providers some $3 million per day in wasted server capacity. Here’s the good news: As anti-spam tools have improved, the inherent risk of accidentally intercepting legitimate e-mails has decreased. Symantec’s Mail Security 8160 router, for instance, uses a sophisticated starvation technique that shapes traffic at the edge of the network so that suspected spammers get scant bandwidth. "This technology doesn’t delete any spam—all mail gets through," explains Rick Caccia, a senior director at Symantec. But faced with slower connections, "most spam engines just give up and move on," he says. And in late May, Cloudmark announced an automated feedback engine that improves broadband customers’ ability to report threats to MSOs, which can then tweak spam filters in real time to improve accuracy. In addition, Cloudmark claims its new StorageScan product frees up some 20-25% of server space by destroying errant, archived spam. MSOs that employ spam filters at the enterprise level generally won’t talk about their own specific cost savings, but Jay Opperman, director of privacy and security at Comcast, confirms that "there’s an ability to cut your costs if you have an effective front-end system." Comcast uses tools by Symantec to stop much spam at the network edge before it gets to the MSO’s servers and customers. "Why even let it in the front door if you don’t have to?" Opperman says. Cloudmark’s de Guerre notes that spammers could eventually target voice over IP customers—sending them annoying audio files instead of e-mails, which would hog even more bandwidth and storage. Video spam can’t be far behind. But no matter what schemes spammers use in the future, enlightened MSOs are fighting back. "They’re not going to stop," says Opperman. "We have to keep our eyes open." Michael Grebb is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who specializes in technology and media trends. He can be reached at Cablegrebb@aol.com. The Cost of Spam Bandwidth Degradation – Spam abuse sucks away bandwidth that might be better used for VoIP or other premium broadband services. Increased Delay – Spam clogs up e-mail queues and results in processing delays that degrade the customer experience. Storage Capacity – Spam e-mails take up massive amounts of storage. Cloudmark estimates that spam wastes up to a quarter of all e-mail storage space, costing all ISPs combined up to $3 million per day in wasted capacity. Source: Cloudmark

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