IronPort: Image-spam filters produce high catch rates

IronPort says its e-mail filters tuned to trap image spam now have catch rates at 98 percent

Messaging security vendor IronPort says its e-mail filters tuned to trap image spam -- the latest spammer trick that's made a significant increase in the amount of unwanted messages flooding in-boxes -- are now reaching catch rates of as much as 98 percent.

IronPort currently deploys 17 antispam filters designed specifically to catch image spam, messages with text embedded in an image file that evade most spam filters because they can't recognize the words inside the image. IronPort's filters can inspect an image embedded in a message for text as well as for other clues that the message might be spam, says David Mayer, product manager with IronPort.

For example, in order to trick antispam products that make a signature of a known spam message and match that against new messages, spammers have begun "randomizing" image spam by adding a random dot to the background or compiling six or seven images into one large one, Mayer says. IronPort's filters respond to this by examining images for such random changes or for compiled images that wouldn't normally be found in a legitimate e-mail with an embedded image, he says.

IronPort updates its filters with new rules on a regular basis to keep up with the latest spamming tricks, Mayer says.

According to one user, the filters are working.

Cooper Industries, a manufacturer of electrical products and tools in Houston, was using IronPort's e-mail security appliance with Symantec's Brightmail antispam filters, which IronPort offers along with its own antispam filters that include the company's Context Adaptive Scanning Engine (CASE). Cooper Industries' IT department, which manages about 29,000 users on its network, a few months ago began getting complaints about spam.

"The primary reason why we started looking at different options was our track record previous to image spam was great," says Brandon Meyers, manager of networking and communications with Cooper Industries. IronPort suggested the company try using its own CASE antispam filters, which were released earlier this year, and the problem has gone away, Meyers says.

IronPort Anti-Spam's "catch rate is by far stronger that anything else we've tried," he says.

IronPort on Wednesday released its findings regarding spam's volume growth. Worldwide, spam has gone from 31 billion messages a day in October 2005 to 61 billion per day in October 2006, Mayer says.Image spam made up 25 percent of all spam in October of 2006, up from 4.8 percent during the same month last year.

Because image spam messages are larger in size than traditional text messages, the average size of a spam message has nearly doubled from 8.9KB to 13KB, he adds.

IronPort culls these findings from both the legitimate mail and spam that it scans for its customers, which includes eight of the 10 largest ISPs, Mayer says.

IronPort Anti-Spam can be purchased with the company's messaging security appliances. Pricing for larger organizations begins at around US$4 per user per year.

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