Antispam Tools: Can They Keep Up?

By Neil J. Rubenking  |  Print this article Print


Desktop-as-a-Service Designed for Any Cloud ? Nutanix Frame

Antispam products have to get tougher to stay ahead of the game. So we tested the latest versions of five spam blockers to see if they can hold back the flood.

The deluge of spam just keeps increasing, and spammers are getting sneakier every day. That means antispam products have to get tougher to stay ahead of the game. So we tested the latest versions of five spam blockers to see if they can hold back the flood.

We configured each product according to the vendor's advice for minimizing the amount of legitimate mail misfiled in the spam folder (false positives) while still keeping the most spam out of our in-box (false negatives). Where there was a choice, we tested with Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express, based on the vendor's recommendation.

Four of the five products we reviewed use filtering techniques—analyzing message content and headers—to identify spam. To test those, we diverted a stream of spam-infested, real-world messages to multiple e-mail accounts, each protected by one of the products. For comparison, we ran the same e-mail stream through Outlook's own spam filter and through Cloudmark SpamNet and Aladdin's Spam Catcher, both of which did well in our last roundup. We intended to compare Norton AntiSpam 2004, our Editors' Choice in that roundup, as well, but a glitch in the product (which has since been fixed) during our testing period prevented the necessary unattended mail processing.

For ten days, we manually trained the products, correcting any legitimate mail that was misfiled as spam or vice versa. Then we cleared the in-boxes and configured the programs to use only filtering to identify spam—not whitelists, blacklists, or challenge/response systems. We let them run for ten more days and then exported each product's mailbox using askSam 6. We identified the messages that were received by all of the products and discarded the rest. Next, we manually identified the remaining messages as undeniably spam or undeniably valid, deleting all others. The results, shown in the accompanying table, reflect only the product's ability to filter spam. When whitelisting, blacklisting, and challenge/response (if available) are enabled, accuracy will naturally improve.

Neil J. Rubenking Neil Rubenking served as vice president and president of the San Francisco PC User Group for three years when the IBM PC was brand new. He was present at the formation of the Association of Shareware Professionals, and served on its board of directors. In 1986, PC Magazine brought Neil on board to handle the torrent of Turbo Pascal tips submitted by readers. By 1990 he had become PC Magazine's technical editor, and a coast-to-coast telecommuter. His 'User to User' column supplied readers with tips and solutions on using DOS and Windows, his technical columns clarified fine points in programming and operating systems, and his utility articles (over forty of them) provided both useful programs and examples of programming in Pascal, Visual Basic, and Delphi. Mr. Rubenking has also written seven books on DOS, Windows, and Pascal/Delphi programming, including PC Magazine DOS Batch File Lab Notes and the popular Delphi Programming for Dummies. In his current position as a PC Magazine Lead Analyst he evaluates and reports on client-side operating systems and security solutions such as firewalls, anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-spam and full security suites. He continues to answer questions for readers in the ongoing 'Solutions' column and in PC Magazine's discussion forums.

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