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How ISPs can eliminate spam, lift profitability and improve customer service

  • 22 January, 2007 09:55

<p>By David Frost, CEO PR Deadlines Pty Ltd</p>
<p>Australia’s Internet service providers could save their customers significant time, money and frustration in dealing with the common menace of unwanted email - if only they could eliminate spam.</p>
<p>The good news is that they can achieve this apparent miracle. By switching from the filter-based anti-spam solutions that most use, to challenge-response technology, ISPs can reduce the torrent of spam deluging their clients to a mere trickle.</p>
<p>The benefits for those ISPs that make the switch can be far-reaching: higher profitability, possible staff reductions, plus improved customer service which can deliver a significant competitive edge.</p>
<p>My own experience suggests that challenge-response is a far more effective than filtering at curbing spam. Email is the life blood of PR communications, and our circulation was growing more sluggish by the day. As a Bigpond ADSL user, we were receiving up to 30 unwanted emails daily, so we switched on Telstra’s spam-filtering service. Initially this reduced spam levels, but junk email numbers began to rise steadily until they reached about a dozen each day, suggesting that spammers were becoming smarter at evading anti-spam filters. We were also wasting time checking for false positives – emails we wanted that Bigpond had classified as spam. Evidently filters will quarantine any email arbitrarily, regardless of how many we receive from a particular source.</p>
<p>Although the spam volumes we were receiving cost us no significant working time, it irked me to be paying for an anti-spam service that clearly was not working. The answer came from veteran infotech writer Graeme Philipson, who recommended TotalBlock (www.totalblock.net), as both an effective solution and as a client. This Australian solution is prominent among a growing number of anti-spam systems that use blocking techniques. Since we implemented TotalBlock eight months ago, only TWO spam emails have eluded TotalBlock’s blocking technology when spammers took the trouble to respond to a challenge. During that eight-month period, TotalBlock has held up about six legitimate emails which we were able to free easily via the solution’s online Control Panel.</p>
<p>TotalBlock works by blocking ALL machine-generated unwanted email, which forms the vast majority of all unwanted email, using a challenge-response technique rather than filtering. It builds a list of acceptable incoming email senders, using a customer’s address book as well as replying automatically to any emailers who are not on the allowed list. The reply contains a simple action that, when followed, adds the sender to the allowed list and no further emails are challenged. The action can be as simple as replying to the challenge. Since this authorisation process requires human intervention, it bypasses the drone machines that spew out huge volumes of spam.</p>
<p>TotalBlock also guards against network overloads caused by storming, harvesting and denial-of-service (DoS) attacks.</p>
<p>My own experience with TotalBlock is mirrored by other users. The Managing Director of B&amp;C Mailing, Australia’s oldest mailing house, was receiving 60 spam emails per day despite using a security management solution from CA. IT Manager David Bowers checked alternatives and chose TotalBlock. Since then management and staff at B&amp;C Mailing have received no unwanted emails, nor has any legitimate email been blocked.
“Fantastic result,” said David.</p>
<p>Retired senior IBM manager Paul Hunter was becoming increasingly frustrated at receiving 20-30 unwanted emails per day despite using Bigpond’s anti-spam service. Friends and former IBM colleagues recommended TotalBlock and since using the challenge-response system he has received no spam and has not missed any emails he wanted to receive.</p>
<p>The Alpha School System Pty Ltd (TASS), Brisbane-based educational software vendor, reports a productivity rise of up to 12.5 per cent company-wide, since installing TotalBlock. Spam has dwindled to practically zero, while the company has not missed a single legitimate incoming email.</p>
<p>“Our previous anti-spam system relied on filtering technology, but it was an all-or-nothing solution,” said Managing Director Ken Reid. “If you opened it wide enough to receive the emails you needed, it let in heaps of rubbish through the door. With TotalBlock we have been able to stop the flow of rubbish, while allowing through all emails from legitimate senders.”</p>
<p>Reid says that instead of starting off by dealing with unwanted emails for anything between half an hour to a full hour, he receives email only from bona fide senders. In an eight-hour working day, that equates to a productivity saving of up to 12.5%, which is reflected across TASS’s staff of 25.</p>
<p>Rahul Maini, who runs communications specialist firm One Earth Infotech Pty Ltd (http://www.oneearthinfotech.com) in Sydney, agrees that filtering solutions are far from effective. He says: “ My clients have been using filtering from different ISPs, and some have their own domains, but they are still receiving lots of spam. We advise them all to switch to TotalBlock, and at least 99 per cent of their spam is stopped.”</p>
<p>Bruce Stewart, former IT consultant, now Group CEO for Wireless Communications company Infostream, cites a growing problem with spam filters: more and more legitimate emails enclosing documents are being generated automatically by organisations such as banks, and filters simply regard these as spam.</p>
<p>“With filtering, it’s left to someone to write a lot of complicated rules inside spam control software,” said Bruce. “It’s a very imprecise way to control spam. In contrast, TotalBlock relies on the same method we use to answer a knock on the door. Either you know the visitor or you satisfy yourself that he or she has a legitimate reason for entering. Similarly with TotalBlock, when email senders fail to prove themselves, you actively block them. You are in control of your own rules for allowing or blocking senders.”</p>
<p>According to the CEO of TotalBlock Pty Ltd, Peter Stewart, positive results such as this are common across the anti-spam solution’s user base. TotalBlock scales up from a single user, to the largest enterprise. The company has experienced issues with some prospective customers who are reluctant to change their desktop details to accommodate the new solution, but this would not be the case if the product were implemented by their ISP. The positive results experienced by current users would be replicated on a large scale if ISPs were to embrace this most effective solution.</p>
<p>“Some home users do not want to commit to changes, but for a technical person, hooking up to TotalBlock is simple,” says Stewart. “So we see the application as an ideal solution for ISPs – we believe it can make a very significant impact on their cost-effectiveness while giving early adopters a competitive edge by lifting customer service levels.</p>
<p>According to CEO Stewart, TotalBlock is so effective that he rarely hears from customers once they have implemented the solution.</p>
<p>He says: “We believe it is ideal for a service-provider since there are no ongoing maintenance issues. An ISP could continue to use the filtering approach and provide TotalBlock as a harder-hitting alternative. For example, ‘click here to implement filtering’, or ‘click here to implement challenge-response’. I think its fair to say that TotalBlock is not a better mousetrap, it’s a different – and much more effective - approach to stopping the mouse. There are no filters to maintain and less work for everyone.”</p>
<p>For more information</p>
<p>Peter Stewart, TotalBlock +61-2-9437 9800
pstewart@totalblock.net</p>
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