According to statistics, spam represents anywhere between 90 and 98 percent of the approximately 100 billion e-mails sent each day. At its most benign, spam is unsolicited or junk e-mail, typically advertisements for things you don't want or don't need from curing erectile dysfunction to home mortgages to stock tips. At its worst, though, spam can clog or cripple your inbox, infect your computer or network with viruses and even cause your computer to spam your friends and clients.
While nearly every e-mail program and Internet Service Provider (ISP) now has a spam filter, some do a better job than others. To truly win the war on spam, you most likely need a standalone anti-spam product. Fortunately, there are many good, low-cost anti-spam solutions out there.
Tales From The Spam Wars
The first thing to remember is that you're not alone. Small businesses everywhere are inundated with spam, and it's sapping productivity across the board. We spoke with three small business people about the problems they had with spam and the different products they used to tame the beast.
The Solo Business Owner
Gerard Braud's spam story is pretty typical. Before he got a spam blocker, "ninety percent of the e-mails coming to me were spam," recalls Braud, a professional speaker who runs a communications company, Braud Communications, in Louisiana. "Every day I'd get so angry about spam, because it was such a violation of my privacy."
Part of the problem was that Braud's e-mail address was all over his Web site. "That's how I reach my customers, which makes it easy for the spiders to find me. But I can't stop running a business with a Web presence because of spam."
So Braud fought back, using the spam filters that came with his Web browser. But the spam kept coming.
The Outsourced Gun For Hire
Like Braud, Shelly McIntosh, who owns Shelly McIntosh Personal & Professional Administrative Services, in Tempe, Arizona, uses e-mail extensively to communicate with her clients, typically other small business owners looking for a virtual assistant to provide administrative help with word processing, marketing, presentations and other services. McIntosh had been relying on Microsoft Outlook and her ISP's spam filters to block spam while letting legitimate e-mail pass through.
She adds that Outlook and the filters just weren't good enough. She kept getting spam and wasted a lot of time during the day deleting it. Looking for relief, she posted a query on an industry message board she subscribed to, to see what other virtual assistants were using to block spam. Immediately, several members e-mailed her back suggesting a couple of different spam blockers.
The Business With 50+ People
Spam was also a huge problem for TPC Systems, a Connecticut-based technology solution provider with more than 50 employees. "Like many small businesses, we had significant spam issues," recalls Mike DeNovellis, TPC's senior network engineer. "When my predecessor approached the president of the company about it a couple of years ago, the president felt it wasn't worth the money, that employees should just delete any junk e-mail and move on. He didn't think it was a day-to-day business issue."
But the problem didn't go away. It just got worse.
Those three scenarios demonstrate how spam can strangle a small business. Here's how each company finally put spam in its place.
For Gerard Braud, the solution came to him at a conference, where a colleague told him about an anti-spam product called Spam Arrest.
Braud tried it out and was sold. "It's a miracle," he says. "I don't know how they do it, but for pennies a day, I no longer have to sort through ads for Viagra and home mortgages. On the average day, it catches 400 pieces of junk e-mail."
"Filtering just doesn't work," says Brian Cartmell, the CEO of Spam Arrest. "I think that's why people with Outlook or Eudora or Thunderbird [about 75 percent of Spam Arrest customers] use our product. They're great e-mail programs, but they're not great spam-blocking utilities."
To block spam and to make sure legitimate e-mail gets through, Spam Arrest developed a challenge/response software-as-a-service (i.e., downloadable) solution. "Our product establishes a one-to-one relationship between a person who wants to contact one of our members and our members. When you send an e-mail for the first time to one of our customers, if the person hasn't contacted you before or white-listed you, you get a response from the Spam Arrest system asking you to verify that you are who you are."
Once your e-mail address has been verified, you're e-mail is automatically forwarded to the recipient's Spam Arrest inbox, which members can access using POP3 or IMAP from their e-mail program or any Web browser. If by some chance a stray piece of e-mail gets through, customers can block it from their inbox and a message is sent to Spam Arrest to prevent additional mail from that account getting through.
Spam Arrest offers a free 30-day trial. After that, single license fees range from $5.95 for a monthly subscription to $74.95 for two years (with other pricing options in between). Spam Arrest also offers multi-license options.
As for McIntosh, she researched the products her colleagues recommended, and of them she chose Cloudmark Desktop, an anti-spam, anti-phishing, anti-virus solution designed to work with Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express.
McIntosh says the results have been impressive. "It's been a tremendous help. I have the version that has a toolbar in Outlook, and I've been very happy with it and have recommended it to others," she says.
"Cloudmark Desktop leverages the latest threat data from our global network of more than 60 ISPs and 180 million mailboxes, so an individual or small business benefits from the same protection as the world's leading e-mail providers," says Dave Champine, senior director of product marketing.
He adds that the software is easy for non-techical people to install. "It's a very simple solution, and customers get considerable configuration control over spam folders, so they can adjust their own settings without administrative help. "
You can try Cloudmark, which boasts a 98 percent accuracy rate, for free for 15 days. A single license for Cloudmark Desktop for Outlook or Outlook Express costs $39.95. The company also offers a variety of multi-license options ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars a year.
As for TPC, it chose AppRiver's SecureTide Spam and Virus Protection. "It scrubs the mail clean before it ever hits our servers," explains DeNovellis. "And because AppRiver's business is focused on e-mail security, it provides a very high level of service to a small business like us at relatively low cost." He adds that SecureTide has practically eliminated the company's spam problem.
"AppRiver also lets us forward any suspicious items back to them, which they then add to their filtering system," says DeNovellis. "And if our servers go down, AppRiver can hold our mail till we come back online. Similarly, if our primary Internet carrier goes down, AppRiver can automatically route our e-mail to our backup provider."
Pricing for SecureTide starts at $12.95 per person per month, with unlimited e-mail box storage. A license for 50 people costs less than $675 a year.
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff writes about business and technology and contributes to SmallBusinessComputing.com.
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