Taking The 'X' Out Of Spam

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X-rated spam was taking on a sexual harassment slant at Credit Union of Southern California-until the $400-million CU started using spam-filtering software at its e-mail server and employee inboxes.

"Information services began receiving calls in the past year from users who were getting a lot of spam that contained questionable content," explained Ray Rounds, the CU's vice president of information services. "Because we have harassment and other HR-related polices, we were concerned not so much with the volume of spam as with the subject matter."

Credit Union of Southern California's (CU SoCal) perspective may seem unusual in the spam-fighting world, given that the focus of most anti-spam research and marketing is placed on fighting the volume of spam e-mail users receive-not the acceptability of the content.

Spam-or electronic junk mail- is a threat to employee productivity, according to many financial services analysts. Not only do employees waste time trying to read through and delete unsolicited emails, but the volume of spam clogs many a network's bandwidth.

For instance, sources such as Computerworld magazine and e-mail technology vendor Commtouch report that employees spend 90 minutes every day dealing with the more than six-million unique spam messages circulating the Internet.

And if credit union employees do Yahoo or Hotmail, they're subjecting themselves to the top two spam domains on the Internet, according to Commtouch.

Despite the fact that CU SoCal focused on preventing the potential harassment issues raised by spam content, Rounds agreed that spam volume was also eating up employee time.

"It didn't matter if the e-mail user was a power or casual user, the quantity of time spent dealing with spam was on the rise," he said.

One year ago, CU SoCal turned to Mountain View, Calif.-based Commtouch's Enterprise Gateway, offering both IT administration and end-users the ability to set spam policies.

"Our risk level went down immediately," Rounds said. "What used to be daily complaints from users about questionable spam content are now coming in maybe once a week. We have to look at problems very infrequently."

Commtouch is a way for the end user to have a better online experience," Rounds added.

Rounds said Commtouch allows him to administer email white-lists from the CU's Microsoft Exchange server before messages hit individual users' inboxes.

"We had some users that were pretty good at filtering spam just within their own Microsoft Outlook email clients, but that wasted a lot of individual user time," he said. "We wanted a solution that we could administer on a centralized basis."

Commtouch also automatically installs a quarantine folder in each user's Microsoft Outlook client to store selected messages that users themselves are allowed to review- "in case there's an e-mail from a legitimate vendor," Rounds said. "The user can then flag the individual email to accept or block it at the user level."

The 36,000-member CU is rolling out Commtouch bit by bit, first to a selected test group, but by summer's end will use the technology to filter spam for all of CU SoCal's 150 e-mail users at five locations.

"The IS and Training departments started by adding individuals to Commtouch one at time until we had the approximately 25 people who were asking the most for it," he said.

CUJ Resources

For more information on this story:

* CU SoCal at www.cusocal.org

* Commtouch at www.commtouch.com

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