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Spam is no longer a big deal for Lisa Minor, vice president of Information Systems at $74-million GHS Federal Credit Union.

Minor-whose duties include distributing incoming website e-mail to appropriate employees-joined an emerging spam-fighting community in June 2002. That community is a product of Cloudmark Inc.'s SpamNet, peer-to-peer spam-filtering software that installs as an add-in to Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express.

"Dispersing e-mail to employees is time-consuming," Minor said. "My workstation has a lot of e-mail traffic from the website and a lot of spam." Minor said she received about 11,000 e-mails in the past year and a half.

Nearly half of Minor's e-mails are now automatically blocked as spam, she said.

Better yet, Minor said spam is accurately blocked, despite the fact that she is registered on a number of periodical e-mail lists. "I've had no false positives."

Prior to SpamNet, Minor manually filtered all of her messages. "I would receive e-mail and individually delete spam. That was a lot of wasted time. Often I couldn't get to regular e-mail because of the time I spent on spam."

SpamNet features a time- and cost-savings calculator. Minor has saved more than 14 hours of manual spam filtering since installation, according to the software.

Minor is one of more than 700,000 SpamNet's users, also known as SpamFighters. SpamNet appears as a toolbar in Outlook or Outlook Express, from which users can choose to Block or Unblock incoming mail in a designated spam folder.

"If the mail is from a new sender and has never been reported as spam, I can define it as spam by blocking it," Minor explained. "From then on, that sender will automatically delete from my inbox."

Once a user blocks a sender in individual e-mail programs, the sender is blocked in real-time in all SpamFighters' e-mail programs. That's because blocked messages are stored as algorithmic codes in SpamNet's central database. New messages in all users' e-mail programs are then checked against the database.

Minor extended SpamNet's capabilities to 10 administrative and IS staff members last month. Administrative staff members' e-mail addresses are available to the public and generate more e-mail than other staff members, Minor explained.

Minor is glad to be part of a spam solution. "We're not going to get anywhere if we fight spam individually," she said. "With SpamNet, not only am I taking care of spam at my level, but I'm contributing to a major database. I feel that I'm contributing to controlling the problem."

Depending on the comfort level of the organization, messages identified as spam can be automatically deleted or stored in the spam folder. Minor trusts the system enough to allow automatic deletion.

"At first, I reviewed spam messages individually in the spam folder," she said. "I needed to develop a comfort level to where I know that automatically deleted messages are truly spam."

In the worst-case scenario, Minor said she could always review her "Deleted Items" folder to retrieve legitimate messages.

The SpamNet installation is innocuous, said Minor. "SpamNet isn't an invasive product. It's behind the scenes working while you're getting your work done."

SpamNet maintains the integrity of the pool of user-reported spam messages through its Truth Evaluation System.

Each SpamNet user is rated as spam is reported. To increase a trust rating a user must make accurate spam reports.

"It's very difficult to gain trust in our system and very easy to lose it," added Steve Mickle, public relations manager at Cloudmark.

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