Small Business News Briefs

Thursday Jan 8th 2004 by SmallBusinessComputing.com Staff
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Microsoft moves quickly to quell problems with its Windows Small Business Server 2003 software, NaviSite banks on small businesses upping spending on Web hosting, and Nemx names five essential technologies to fight spam in 2004.

Microsoft's Stocking Stuffers
Microsoft this week announced it is giving away five free client access licenses (CALs) to Windows Small Business Server 2003 customers to make up for a bug in its Windows SharePoint Services that spoiled many initial installations of the online collaboration program in 2003.

The five free CALs, valued at roughly $500, will be available to existing customers and new purchasers of the standard and premium editions of the server software though Feb. 5, 2004.

The free five-pack will be offered in addition to the existing five CALs that come with the server software. Currently, the standard edition with five CALs is $599 while the premium edition with five CALs is $1,499. Additional CALs usually cost $99 each.

In addition to soothing the SharePoint snafu, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant is upping the ante on its Software Assurance program for Office 2003 licensees. Microsoft is offering rebates for subscribing to its Software Assurance program for professional, standard and small business editions.

Software Assurance provides a few interesting benefits above and beyond programming updates. These include a home use program that allows employees to get a licensed copy of Office 2003 to install and use at home. Also included are additional training and support services for IT staff members.

The office productivity suites, plus three-years worth of Software Assurance, are available from qualified resellers. Rebates are redeemed through Microsoft's redemption Web site. Collecting on the rebate takes about 12 weeks. Small businesses need collect contract authorization numbers, specifics from their licensing contracts, and pertinent company information to file for the rebates online.

Although Microsoft publishes its retail pricing online, it becomes taciturn when discussing volume licensing deals and discounts publicly, since the majority of the deals are handled by resellers. All the same, the rebates appear to be substantial.

The offer applies to U.S. businesses and residents only, and all rebates expires on April 30, 2004. Purchase three year's worth of Software Assurance for five to nine copies of Microsoft Office 2003 standard or small business editions and you're eligible for a $750 rebate — a similar number of subscriptions for the professional edition yields a $900 rebate.

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Where Will IT Money Go This Year?
According to a recent study, U.S. small- and mid-sized businesses will increase their spending on Web hosting, data storage and disaster recovery systems this year. Of course, this could be wishful thinking on the part of NaviSite, an application service provider that co-sponsored the market research, which was completed by Massachusetts-based market intelligence firm Schaaf Inc.

The survey reveals that 23 percent of respondents — businesses with 10 to 500 employees — plan to increase spending on Web hosting by 60 percent on average. Schaaf Inc. interviewed IT executives across a range of vertical business markets to gauge their demand and spending plans for technology products and services in 2004. Topics included plans for spending on managed messaging services, disaster recovery and backup systems, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), and Web hosting.

The survey also considered motivation and buying behavior exhibited by smaller businesses, along with their preferred channels and attitudes toward new technologies. The study reveals that 50 percent of small businesses buy online whenever they can and 77 percent view a company's Website as important when making a buying decision.

Joel Whitman, NaviSite vice president of marketing, said the study affirms the company's moves toward delivering a wider range of managed IT services to the mid-market in 2004.

"Small to mid-sized companies have a special set of needs, and they like to do business with companies who understand those needs — companies who look and act like they do," Whitman said. "It is gratifying to see that the results of this survey confirm what we have believed all along, that small to mid-sized companies recognize the importance of their Web-presence and are committing the resources to be sure they remain strong in a competitive market environment."

NaviSite already provides outsourced application, software delivery, hosting and messaging services to over 850 mid-sized companies. Look for additional service debuts and extended services offerings for small businesses in 2004.

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Spammers Face Layers of Spam-Thwarting Systems
It's aggravating, annoying, and often insulting. It diminishes productivity, chokes e-mail servers, and eats away at bandwidth. It's spam, and it continues to grow, while confidence in anti-spam technology shrinks.

According to Nemx Software, a provider of Microsoft Exchange Server anti-virus services, the volume of spam has continued to grow over the past year. The Ottawa, Canada-based firm estimates a 50 percent increase in the amount of spam being blocked in 2003.

This year, the threat of spam will continue to grow. Some industry experts estimate that spam will comprise as much as 70 percent of business e-mail by year-end. Great. Seven-of-ten e-mails will meet their death by way of the delete-key.

Businesses of all sizes are increasingly challenged by the new and sophisticated techniques spammers use to attack open relays, propagating worms such as Sobig-F and Mimail. Nemx forecasts that new threats to e-mail security in 2004 include:

  • Web Beacons: Highly aggressive, Web beacons are used to monitor the behavior of infected PCs. Web beacons gather information about users, including e-mail addresses and the time e-mails are opened. This information is used to qualify addresses for use in dictionary attacks, and to target spam to specific domains.

  • Exploitation of Relay Hosts: Over the past year, open relays have been used to send spam. This will intensify as spammers adopt methods that take the tactics one step further by exploiting non-delivery report information and common authentication techniques. Nemx believes that these vulnerabilities will be exacerbated by the shortcomings in Exchange Server software and the holes in security that are created by proxy-based anti-spam products.

Nemx anticipates that businesses of all shapes and sizes will need to implement new technologies in 2004 to ensure they are able to keep pace with the growing threat of spam to business productivity. The most important technologies for 2004 will be those that instill end user and administrator confidence by making sure that decisive action will be taken to separate spam from true business e-mail.

For example, often spam is not deleted, but quarantined, as many technologies are producing a high number of false positives. False positives occur when legitimate business e-mail is inadvertently cast off into a junk folder by a spam filter, which contributes to angst over the reliability of messaging systems.

John Young, Nemx president, said the solution to spam isn't just about outwitting spammers as they come up with new techniques.

"The other important aspect is instilling user confidence. Users need to know that their anti-spam solution isn't blocking e-mails from getting to their inbox or sitting in quarantine waiting for the IT administrator to review them," Young said. "E-mail is a powerful tool, but it will only continue to be if technology keeps pace with the reality that users need to trust and feel secure that their business e-mail will arrive on time."

Nemx contends that there are five essential technologies to fight spam in 2004. The first layer of protection includes using reputable real-time blackhole lists (RBLs). Toward this end, Nemx this week strengthened its partnerships with Mail Deflector, SpamCop and MailAbuse to provide customers with multiple lines of protection.

RBLs are a technique used to filter spam from actual business e-mail. However, for this method to be effective, it is critical that a mix of highly credible, semi-credible and aggressive RBLs is used. By offering support from multiple RBLs, Nemx ensures customers are able to keep pace with spam, while protecting them from unreliable RBLs that may mistakenly blacklist legitimate domains.

Additional layers of protection include concept filtering, identifying friendly domains, and empowering end users and administrators to deploy a multi-tiered approach to stemming the flow of spam. Implementing a minimum of two to three different approaches enables organizations to fight off new types of spam techniques and improve both end-user and administrator productivity by allowing fewer spam messages past the server-level.

Nemx Power Tools for Exchange offers multiple lines of defense in the fight against spam with advanced tools such as content interpretation and classification, reverse blacklists, key word and phrase filtering, pattern recognition, virus protection and internal and external e-mail filtering. The advanced edition offers enterprises of all sizes protection from both Internet and internal e-mail. The Internet edition, designed specifically for small- to medium-sized business, addresses security at the Internet level.

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