Controlling Spam: An Agencys Story

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At one time, talk about spam referred to condensed meat in acan. Today, that term takes on a whole different meaning for e-mailusers who are bombarded each day with volumes of unsolicitedadvertisements we know as spam.

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The issue is not simply limited to the annoyance of having todelete unwanted e-mails, but it also has an affect on employeeproductivity and software equipment, say information technologyexecutives.

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One insurance brokerage firm, based in West Point, Ga., watchedthe effect of unwanted spam on its own system and decided it wastime to do something about it. The firm chose a product from asoftware vendor that had proven itself to the firm already.

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D. Gaines Lanier, chief executive officer and president of J.Smith Lanier & Co., an independent insurance brokerage firm ofmore than 400 employees, said that about a year and a half ago thefirm saw a problem that needed resolution.

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“I receive and delete e-mails every day and I realized how muchjunk e-mail was coming across my personal computer,” remembered Mr.Lanier. “I realized how much was getting to me and feared how muchwas getting to others in the company that we had no idea about. Werealized we had to get some type of control around just where allthis junk e-mail was coming from.”

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The firms written policy on e-mail was not sufficient to controlthe in-flow, he said, and it decided that another solution neededto be found to control the situation.

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Michael Millan, the firms director ofinformation technology at the time and now an independentconsultant headquartered in Auburn, Ala., said that the firmreviewed three software products meant to filter out unwantede-mail. The firm chose Scotts Valley, Calif.-based softwaredeveloper SurfControl.

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Mr. Millan explained that Lanier chose the software for severalreasons. The firm already had an idea of what the software vendorwas capable of doing. Three years before, because of Internetbandwidth problems, the firm decided to get a Web filtering systemto bar entry to some Internet sites and improve access to the Web.He said the software “did more than we thought it would.” The Webfilter increased bandwidth by 15 percent and was “very easy to setup and configure.”

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Later, when senior management finally “became very irritated”with the spam, the firm looked at three different products, Mr.Millan said, including SurfControls.

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“We were amazed,” Mr. Millan said of the companys reaction whenthe software was installed.

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In the first couple of days of use, the filter caught more than2,000 pieces of e-mail coming through the central mail server, 90percent of which was spam. The new software required a littletweaking, largely on the financial services side because of theinformation those e-mails asked for, but it proved largelysuccessful.

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He said one of the larger problems was the adult contentmessages that were coming through, and the filter completelyeliminated them on the first day of use.

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“We went from a couple hundred messages a day that were goingthrough and upsetting some people, to zero,” said Mr. Millan.

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The filter lets the agency allow e-mail from specific people orvendors to get through. On the flip side, it can be set up to barspecific people from e-mailing messages to the firm.

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“If you have someone sending abusive or harassing e-mail tosomeone in your company, you can block that person out relativelyeasily,” he noted.

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There was a little training involved in getting the informationtechnology department to routinely check for messages that shouldhave gone through. The firms employees also had to be taught thatif they were waiting for an important e-mail that had not comethrough to “give a shout” to the IT department and check if it wassitting in the filter.

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“People thought it was worth the burden because of all the junkthey were no longer getting on their machines,” says Mr.Millan.

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Before installing the filter, when he would come in on a Monday,Mr. Millan said he could find about 300 e-mails in his inbox fromover the weekend. After the filter was installed the number droppedto 50, he said.

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Today, says Eddie Ferrel, the current director of informationtechnology for Lanier, over 48,000 e-mails went through thefiltering system over a seven-day period, and on one weekend alone11,000 messages were stopped by the filter. Of the 48,000 that wentinto the filter, 25 percent went through to their destination,leaving the remaining 75 percent to be reviewed by the ITdepartment as spam.

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“That takes some time, but it gives you an opportunity to lookat it and stop it,” said Mr. Ferrel. “In terms of productivity ofyour employees, it saves them time from having to read through anddelete it.”

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To get a measure of how much spam costs a company, SurfControldid a survey of 700 IT professionals in 2002. It found that eachspam message costs $1 in worker productivity to a company.

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Susan Getgood, senior vice president of marketing forSurfControl, said that there is more to spam than just theannoyance of unwanted e-mails. There is loss of productivity andbandwidth, due to the constant flow of unwanted e-mails clogging upthe system and needing to be deleted.

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For insurance companies, she noted, there is the additionalburden from federal regulations to keep clients files safe, secureand confidential. She said there is the concern that some spamcould create unwanted contacts or it could be designed to pullclient information out of the agencys files.

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SurfControl uses what she said is a rules-based system thatallows an agencys rules for Internet use to be translated to thedesktop. A client has 30 days to evaluate the software, which theycan download themselves, and in that time can craft how and whate-mail they want to capture or let through.

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A typical investment in this providers product will run about$18 per user in a firm of 500, and slightly more for smaller firmsand agencies, she said. It also requires either adequate serverspace or its own personal computer to operate.

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“What e-mail filtering really does is it certainly stops thespam, but it also helps companies get a handle on all of theseother threats and really manage the use of these services forbusiness use,” said Ms. Getgood. “That is the long-term view[agents] should take when thinking about these technologies. Yes, Iwant to stop spam, because thats my problem today, but I also wantto invest in something that will help my company be more profitablein the long run.”

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SurfControls Web site is located at www.surfcontrol.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Property &Casualty/Risk & Benefits Management Edition, August 11, 2003.Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serialpublication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as anindependent work may be held by the author.


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