Badtrans makes good for MessageLabs

Badtrans virus will probably tack another point or two on MessageLab's already-impressive growth rate.

The UK-founded, managed e-mail security company has discovered a simple but effective formula for hammering viruses out of e-mail attachments: serious overkill.

It uses not one but four separate antivirus engines to scan e-mail funnelled through a $20 million global web of processing centres.

The effect is to slam a bulletproof shield between e-mail viruses and MessageLabs' 3800 corporate customers.

To date, neither Badtrans nor notorious predecessors Nimda, Code Red and LoveBug have infected the e-mail systems of a single customer, MessageLabs claims.

Three of the engines are industrial-strength commercial products: McAfee, F-Secure and VFind. The fourth is MessageLabs' proprietary engine Skeptic based on artificial intelligence techniques.

In an era when e-mail-borne viruses are producing unprecedented levels of corporate heartburn, MessageLabs' perfect track record is fuelling a monthly growth rate of 15 per cent.

Created in the late 1990s by Star Internet, one of the UK's leading ISPs, MessageLabs recently expanded into Australia via a joint marketing venture with Alstom IT.

Its 18 message-scanning centres scattered between Europe, North America and Asia handle about five million e-mails a day. MessageLabs claims each centre has the reserve capacity to cope with peak loads of double that volume.

Alstom IT manager for new business Jack Handley concedes MessageLabs "100 per cent guarantee" is more in the nature of a service level agreement underpinned by its zero-penetration history.

With total mailbox numbers are approaching one million, the question of a third-party sitting astride the corporate e-mail communications channel doesn't appear to concern customers like the Bank of England, Dow Corning, Fujitsu and publishers Conde Nast .

"They all say MessageLabs gives them peace of mind they can't get any other way," Handley said.

Studies of corporate virus penetrations in the US and the UK show recovery from a typical infection can cost a business between $40,000 and $200,000.

That includes costs of taking down, cleansing and restoring servers, loss of worker productivity and e-mail service disruption.

Against that, MessageLabs says its service is cheap. In practice, it is probably more tempting for large companies than small businesses deploying fewer than 25 mailboxes.

Having only a handful of mailboxes is likely to produce bills in the range of $10 to $12 per mailbox.

MessageLabs claims its system takes 1.2 seconds to scan an e-mail message with a 1Mb attachment. Password-protected and encrypted e-mail is passed straight through. Discovery of a virus triggers three actions. The infected message is temporarily quarantined at the centre while two other messages are automatically sent.

One goes to the sender, asking for a clean copy to be resent and the second goes to the recipient asking if the infected message should be destroyed.

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