May 23 2007

Shutting Down the Spamdemic

Barracuda Spam Firewall 300 shreds spam as soon as it enters your system but leaves legitimate e-mail intact.


Photo: Stephen Collector
Jeff Sears, IT Administrator at Value Plastics, says his Barracuda Spam Firewall 300 keeps away almost all unwanted e-mail.

Mountains and mountains of unwanted solicitations, ranging from absurdly spelled pharmaceuticals to stock quote recommendations to utterly meaningless blather, inundate your inbox and harm productivity. But picking spam messages off one by one at the e-mail client level simply will not work. You need to employ modern weaponry, such as Barracuda Networks’ Barracuda Spam Firewall 300.


Take Value Plastics, for instance. The maker of precision plastic fittings, based in Fort Collins, Colo., supports about 100 e-mail accounts and receives about 30,000 spam missives a day.

“We have less than half a percent of legitimate mail coming from the Internet,” says Jeff Sears, IT administrator at Value Plastics. With Barracuda, Sears says he’s able to block the vast majority of unwanted junk e-mail. On occasion, Sears says that legitimate e-mail may get quarantined, but Barracuda keeps a log of these messages.

End-User Advantage

The best thing about the spam firewall is it’s virtually transparent to the end user. The point is to stop spam — or at least filter and tag it — before the end user sees it. This is the strength that a single spam firewall server offers the company as a whole, as opposed to relying on multiple-distributed filters.

The Barracuda Spam Firewall 300 can filter up to 2 million e-mail per day for as many as 1,000 users. The quarantined e-mail may be managed by end users directly or by IT. At Value Plastics, Sears centrally manages quarantined e-mail to save end users’ time. Depending on the size of your company, this is an option that IT may want to consider. “If in doubt, we quarantine it and administrators can release it,” says Sears.

Barracuda will keep track of each message for you in case it blocks something you would prefer to allow through later. Barracuda has a finite amount of space to store e-mail and logs, which get overwritten as new e-mail comes in. In Sears’ system, Barracuda keeps approximately two weeks of e-mail at any given moment.

Why It Works for IT

The most refreshing feature for IT professionals may be simple and secure Web-based administration. The Web interface is so intuitive, it is almost offensive. IT professionals get used to dealing with horribly designed interfaces and the need to read endless technical manuals. All of that is eliminated with this product. Because of centralized administration, you will never again have to conduct a walk-through for an entire department on how to create a local filter rule if you don’t want to.

Barracuda Spam Firewall 300

Barracuda allows IT to configure black and white lists to include specific e-mail addresses or a range of addresses that you know you must receive e-mail from or block completely. As part of annual maintenance, it also provides access to popular online blacklists from organizations that specialize in maintaining lists of known offenders.

Barracuda can operate in inbound or outbound mode, which means it can filter incoming or outgoing e-mail. Most companies operate in inbound mode, Sears says.

Barracuda’s Intent Analysis checks e-mail for certain key characteristics often found in spam, and then it assigns a score. If the score adds up to a certain number, it will perform a task that you have assigned. For example, you can have it tag the subject with a standard phrase if it scores six out of 10, but block the e-mail completely if it scores a 10. IT can also create dictionary lists of keywords that the server will search for in each message, including wild cards to catch differently spelled words; for example, Vilagria! Barracuda also has optical character recognition software built in to check image spam, and it blocks attachments with certain file extensions, such as .bat, .exe and .vbs.

Probably the most effective tool in fighting unwanted e-mail is the ability of the server to learn as it goes through Bayesian spam filtering. You can teach the server what is and what is not spam, making it increasingly more effective over time. In addition to Bayesian filtering, Barracuda supports simple rule-based filtering.


One problem is that Barracuda’s Bayesian filtering is not optimal until you have selected 200 e-mail messages as examples of what is spam and an additional 200 messages as examples of what is not spam.

While Bayesian filtering teaches the server to learn from experience, it may also create some challenges during the initial installation. It took Sears a couple of weeks to train the Bayesian database because of the volume and variety ofe-mail types going through the Barracuda, he says.

Last, a subscription service exists that will automatically update spam definition and virus protection with no reboot, but Barracuda’s firmware updates require a system reboot. While valuable for IT professionals and free for the first year through CDW, at these prices it should be built into the server.

CDW Price: Starts at $2,419.99

CEO Takeaway

A hardware-based spam filter such as Barracuda is highly effective and costly. If you go this route, you will need to do the following:

• Familiarize yourself with the real cost of spam to your company. Once you have a ballpark figure, you should see if the expense is justified.
• Sometimes you cannot measure cost in dollars, especially if spam causes undue stress in your office. Eliminating spam can certainly help the corporate culture and increase productivity in unforeseen ways.
• Understand what solutions are already in place. Barracuda is most likely capable of replacing them. But do you really need to replace systems that could perform better with tweaks or better end-user training?
Jeremy Dotson is a LAN administrator for Tronair (www.tronair.com), a manufacturer of aircraft ground-support equipment in Holland, Ohio.