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New ways of fighting spam to gain hold in 2009

Network Box : 13 January, 2009  (Technical Article)
With spam and virus traffic at an all time high in 2008, Network Box predicts higher usage levels of new technologies for fighting the threats
2008 was a record year for spam and viruses, according to figures released today by managed security firm, Network Box.

The company estimates that, on average, businesses in the UK were required to block: 1.2 million spam messages; 44,000 email-borne viruses; 1.3 million attempted intrusion attacks; 6.3 million attempted firewall hacks; and access to nearly 500,000 blacklisted websites. (This is based on a 'per box' average of Network Box's customers.)

Around 2.7 million signatures were released by Network Box in 2008, as part of 16,800 PUSH updates (updates automatically 'pushed' out to customers as they become available), to protect against new malware threats.

2009 will see a fundamental breakthrough in the battle against spam, says Network Box. The company's 'eMail Relationship' system, a game-changing development in the fight against spam, is due to launch in early 2009, making it virtually impossible for spammers to use their existing databases.

eMail Relationship from Network Box will offer customers significant improvements on any existing spam detection technology, by analysing not just content and IP address, but by applying learning from email user behaviour and relationships, to understand which emails are welcomed by the user, and which are unsolicited spam.

Currently, spam protection has been applied using three main methods: analysis of the message content, the reputation of the sender; and challenge response, which works by putting the onus onto the email sender to accept a challenge from the recipient, to prove who they are. Current anti-spam systems will rarely reach more than 95-98 per cent accuracy, which when you consider the amount of email sent, still lets through a significant number of spam emails. Challenge response systems used in isolation are notoriously unsuccessful, with as little as 40 per cent of genuine email getting through the system, as senders are reluctant to go through the challenge system.

The difference with Network Box's eMail Relationship is that it analyses and learns from behaviour of the sender and recipient of an email, to give a score to the email which is applied in addition to traditional anti-spam filter analysis. It works by:

1 Maintaining a central database to store existing email accounts managed by Network Box on behalf of the email recipient (so genuine email from addresses kept in a users address book will be white-listed, assuming their content passes the traditional filter analysis which naturally includes the reputation of the sender). This records and analyses historical information about the relationship in order to judge the likelihood of that email containing malware or unwanted content. The database can be queried and adjusted at any time by Network Box, the organisation's administrator, or the user. It is continually updated with every email passing through the system, and will challenge new behaviour, flagging up when a whitelisted email address changes its shape - for example, if a contact in Hong Kong suddenly starts sending emails from Russia.

2 All relationships are defined using a score based on sender + recipient + type analysis, and given a score based on the trust and strength of the relationship.

3 The system also learns from user behaviour. For example, if the email user A sends an email to email user B, then the system understands that user A trusts user B, and therefore will strengthen the score of trust in that relationship.

4 If an email relationship is scored as low, then there are number of options open to the system, depending on its configuration. It can quarantine the email and notify the recipient (it can be released with a single click from the recipient if required); challenge the sender to confirm their identity; or defer the email.
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