Medical institute takes hosted spam cure

Move ties into e-mail infrastructure overhaul

With as much as 90 percent of its inbound e-mail classified as spam, the McFarlane Burnet Centre for Medical Research and Public Health in Melbourne has signed up a hosted mail filtering service to cut back the deluge.

The institute's IT director, Paul Stephens, told Computerworld the problem was so bad the amount of data coming into the organization in the form of spam would fill people's mail box quotas in only two days.

To curb the problem, the institute entered into a hosted e-mail filtering service with New Zealand vendor Death2Spam (D2S), which Stephens said "works really well".

"We had a delta-based rule based on SpamAssassin running off a WatchGuard [but] the attractive quality of D2S is it's hosted off-site so we don't have to worry about traffic or servers," he said, adding the customer service has also been good.

"It is simple to implement and to change [so] if you are not happy you can point back to your own systems again. We could run it on own server here but I couldn't see the point as it would cost us more."

Stephens said the biggest problem so far is getting users to go to the online portal at least once a month and check for false positives.

"Because we are a non-profit they gave us a good deal, and the reduction in traffic costs, e-mail storage, and staff time have paid for itself," he said.

The solution has also helped alleviate rogue connections to the mail server associated with phishing, and cut e-mail down from 280,000 messages per week to 78,000 per week, "supposedly with 99.8 percent accuracy".

With 400 accounts, the Institute is using a combination of Sendmail and Oracle's collaboration suite for e-mail transport, with a view to using mostly Oracle by the end of the year.

"Sendmail is useful as an external gateway as it's pretty fast and you can do things with it quite quickly so we might be keeping it for other domains," Stephens said. "But I'm quickly becoming an oracle DBA. It's either that or Exchange, but we are 40 percent Macs, and I've heard of mainly bad experiences with Notes. They all have their issues."

Stephens said the good thing about using and Oracle database for e-mail is for its data recovery purposes, which "works well".

"You just have to learn to deal with it, we only have five IT people and it gets a bit busy and Oracle is a steep learning curve," he said. "We were POP with no Web mail and Oracle has Web e-mail with calendar, shared folders, and Web conferencing."

With staff working in some developing nations, the institute requires Web-based e-mail to remove the need to "download" a lot of messages over slow Internet connections.

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