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Ask Slashdot: Why Are Major Companies Exiting the Spam Filtering Business? (slashdot.org) 244

broswell writes: For years we used Postini for spam filtering. Google bought Postini in 2007, operated it for 5 years and then began shutting it down. Then we moved to MX Logic. McAfee bought MX Logic, and McAfee was purchased by Intel. Now Intel is shutting down the service. Neither company chose to raise prices, or spin off the division. Anyone want to speculate on the reasons?
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Ask Slashdot: Why Are Major Companies Exiting the Spam Filtering Business?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 30, 2016 @12:26PM (#51403345)

    Maybe it's not profitable?

    • by mindwhip ( 894744 ) on Saturday January 30, 2016 @02:12PM (#51403989)

      It's as likely both bought out companies had a patent or some other similar technology that the large company wanted. 5 yeas is probably how long they had to keep the old company running to avoid some legal issues such as employee rights or stock market regulations.

      • by mikael ( 484 )

        Or maybe increased amounts of spam helps sell more higher performance hardware? Some UNIX workstations vendors had a "slow software is good for business" mentality because it kept demand for new CPU's up. They absolutely hated it when developers starting optimizing code rather than adding new features.

    • You might take a look at appriver secure tide [appriver.com] (https://www.appriver.com/services/spam-and-virus-protection/) email filtering. It's SaaS email filtering that you put in front of your smtp server. It has reasonably good controls and does a better than average job. It's reasonably priced.We use it and have been happy with the filtering quality, price and support.

      Barracuda networks also sells a SaaS spam filtering service, haven't used it, but have heard good things about it.
  • Google / Postini (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 30, 2016 @12:33PM (#51403401)

    Guessing Google integrated the parts of Postini they wanted into Gmail's spam filtering and has no desire to help improve other email providers spam filtering.

    McAfee recommends migrating from MXLogic to Proofpoint -- an exclusive partner. In this pdf they call it a more feature rich product. And I'd guess they are getting some sort of financial incentive to recommend Proofpoint. http://www.mcafee.com/resources/faqs/faq-eol-email-security.pdf

  • by mrsam ( 12205 ) on Saturday January 30, 2016 @12:36PM (#51403421) Homepage

    Google had no need for Postini. Google's own spam filtering in Gmail is pretty good. Probably as best as spam filtering could be, under the circumstances. So that's one elephant in the room.

    The other elephant in the room is Microsoft, with Hotmail, or Office 365, or whatever it's called these days. I don't have any firsthand exposure to that service, but from what I hear its built-in spam filtering is also fairly good.

    Big email providers like that have no need to use an external, third party spam filtering service, since they have the technology, and the scale, to implement it in house. Organizations that outsource their email service to these elephants get spam filtering as part of their service and, again, have little need for a third party service.

    About the only likely market for third party spam filtering services would be small to mid-range ISPs or organizations that want to run their E-mail in house. They wouldn't typically have the in-house technology to implement spam filtering, and would rely on a third party. Seems like a fairly small market to me, and with E-mail generally on a slow, steady decline there doesn't seem to be a lot of market opportunities here, for third party spam filtering services.

    • by gmack ( 197796 )

      Actually Hotmail/Outlook etc have a pretty bad false positive rate. For my clients, I have far more complaints abut personal email from my server being redirected to the Junk folder from Hotmail users than from any other provider and that's on top of the once a year ban my mail server.gets from Microsoft where everything bounces until I email them and they remove the block with no feedback as to why it happened.

      • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

        And then you will never know at all about the mails that have been blocked completely. Those you get in the Junk folder may just be the tip of the iceberg that has a probability to be spam but still might not be.

      • I have far more complaints abut personal email from my server being redirected to the Junk folder from Hotmail users than from any other provider

        The vast majority of SPAM never even makes it to the Junk folder.

    • I think email is on the decline just like the iPhone isn't selling anymore - only in news reports. Yes, it's not as popular as it once was however it is still a major method of communicating with customers. The availability of Google Apps (and similar services) for small to medium sized businesses is - from a sys admin perspective - an amazing thing. Their spam/malware protection is better than any other product I've ever used and it does it's work transparently.

      I would counter that not only is email not in

      • email is numerically "in decline" because much of what is on twitter on other proprietary apps would have been in email in the past.

        One thing I've noticed is that an increasing number of companies are responding to email support requests in a serious manner, because the bean counters are finally figuring out how much cheaper email support is than phone support because it is asynchronous.

    • by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Saturday January 30, 2016 @12:56PM (#51403535)

      About the only likely market for third party spam filtering services would be small to mid-range ISPs or organizations that want to run their E-mail in house.

      You're completely ignoring every company that runs an Exchange server.

      Seems like a fairly small market to me

      It's a huge market.

      with E-mail generally on a slow, steady decline

      With such a low ID number, you can't be an idiot college student. Maybe you've just never worked for an Very Large Company.

      • by Dredd13 ( 14750 )

        Lots of those Very Large Companies are just outsourcing their e-mail because it's a major-league-bitch to run it themselves.

        • Actually you'll find lots of those companies are outsourcing some aspects of it to get some fancy cloud features, but are still running major exchange backends.

      • Big companies are no longer significant in terms of IT vendors. They move too slow, and spend very little compared to consumer market. Billions of smartphones versus millions of corporate desktops means that enterprise IT is a secondary market. Big companies do big business. They don't play with the small stuff.
      • I work for a moderately large university. We outsourced our email, which used to run on Exchange, to Google years ago. We're a long way from being the only ones.

      • by mysidia ( 191772 )

        You're completely ignoring every company that runs an Exchange server.

        You can run a hybrid Exchange environment, and use Microsoft Online Protection for Exchange [microsoft.com].

        It's like $3 a month per mailbox, when solutions like McAfee's were more than $10 a month and did a poorer job at spam filtering.

        So again, why would they want to pay more for spam filtering than they had to, if nobody is doing better than Google or MS these days?

        • I have Postfix with Spamassassin and ClamAV on a gateway server that the passes email on to the Exchange infrastructure. I wouldn't dream of leaving an Exchange MTA listening to the big wide world on Port 25.

      • You're completely ignoring every company that runs an Exchange server

        A couple of points. Open source tools and blacklisting services have become pretty good at filtering spam, and archiving email. This has only turned email into more of a commodity business.

        Also Postini wasn't just about spam filtering. It was also about company-wide email archival and regulatory compliance. That being said, after the NSA debacle and the ever increasing demands of the NSA being in control of everything without judicial oversight, any foreign-based companies still using Postini or MX Logic wo

      • was that most companies running exchange were just using Microsoft's spam filtering. This is like when people tell me the market for Mac users is huge. Yes, there are a lot of Mac users and they _do_ have lots of money, but the trouble when writing business software for them is you have to take out all the users who aren't willing to go out and buy a $300 PC to run your software :(...
    • by marciot ( 598356 )

      Also, mobile devices. It's very hard to support mobile devices if your e-mail server is behind a firewall. So mail naturally moved to the cloud for most businesses. Once you're paying someone to host an Exchange server, you might as well pay them manage it, hence the rise of Office365 and what not.

      • Also, mobile devices. It's very hard to support mobile devices if your e-mail server is behind a firewall

        No it isn't. Just forward a few ports and you are done.

        Outlook is more of an issue because the certificate handling between Outlook/Exchange is broken now that you cannot get SAN certificates.

        • by marciot ( 598356 )

          No it isn't. Just forward a few ports and you are done.

          And make sure you have a public IP address and DNS entry, make sure you are up on your security patches on your server and have help desk staff to help people configure their mobiles, etc. Furthermore, outsourcing e-mail typically gives you mobile device management, two-factor authentication and a lot of extra goodies. It's very hard to implement the complete package yourself.

          • have help desk staff to help people configure their mobiles, etc

            Setting up mobiles: Yes, with Exchange, in my experience it's necessary to go through the process several times, because, for whatever reason, it will fail, fail again and then eventually work.

            Furthermore, outsourcing e-mail typically gives you mobile device management

            Exchange provides remote wipe capability for connected mobile devices.

    • by EmeraldBot ( 3513925 ) on Saturday January 30, 2016 @01:00PM (#51403551)

      Google had no need for Postini. Google's own spam filtering in Gmail is pretty good. Probably as best as spam filtering could be, under the circumstances. So that's one elephant in the room.

      The other elephant in the room is Microsoft, with Hotmail, or Office 365, or whatever it's called these days. I don't have any firsthand exposure to that service, but from what I hear its built-in spam filtering is also fairly good.

      Big email providers like that have no need to use an external, third party spam filtering service, since they have the technology, and the scale, to implement it in house. Organizations that outsource their email service to these elephants get spam filtering as part of their service and, again, have little need for a third party service.

      About the only likely market for third party spam filtering services would be small to mid-range ISPs or organizations that want to run their E-mail in house. They wouldn't typically have the in-house technology to implement spam filtering, and would rely on a third party. Seems like a fairly small market to me, and with E-mail generally on a slow, steady decline there doesn't seem to be a lot of market opportunities here, for third party spam filtering services.

      No, email in general is as strong as ever. The reason why it's not profitable is precisely there, however: it's mostly small ISPs who would buy this, and I don't think anybody would use their email service to begin with. The vast majority of us use either Gmail or Outlook, or a small number will self host our own personal email servers. It's a little shakier among smaller, paid email services such as Proton Mail [protonmail.com](Privacy comes at a price, but I've heard their free version is still pretty decent), but my guess is these people also make enough to run their own spam filtering, so you're correct in saying the market's too small. Email as a whole is still a very popular medium, however, and I wouldn't go so far to say it's on a decline...

    • On that note, it seems likely to me that the biggest mail companies benefit greatly from spam. After all, they would be in a better position then their competitors to filter it, and have no risk of being "accidentally" put on someone's blacklist.

      • by mysidia ( 191772 )

        and have no risk of being "accidentally" put on someone's blacklist.

        word is Microsoft has many servers appearing on Spamcannibal's blacklist, and also, occasionally a message will get bounced back b/c the MS SMTP server is listed on Spamcop.

        Of course they will occasionally have IP addresses put on someone's blacklist, but if it starts to cause problems ---- they have more resources available to them to address it, before a significant number of customers notice.

        • by davecb ( 6526 )

          I happily use spamcop, because they do one thing relatively well, and when it's not well, medicate it quickly (;-))

          --davecb@spamcop.net

      • Only a few hundred comments in to find a reasoned analysis. Not bad.

  • Far too many people in this world dedicate themselves to profit rather than what would serve their fellow human beings the best. Never will understand why though. As a species, human kind has depended on the help of others to advance.

    • Re:Money is the way. (Score:4, Informative)

      by Archtech ( 159117 ) on Saturday January 30, 2016 @01:16PM (#51403623)

      I think you will find that "The Red Queen" by Matt Ridley explains it pretty well, in terms of game theory. Of course the game theory stuff is just analogical and suggestive, but I find it convincing.

      Basically the default condition (just because it's mathematically the simplest) is where everyone is looking out for himself. That's the imaginary "state of nature" that Thomas Hobbes depicted in "Leviathan":

      "In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently, not culture of the earth, no navigation, nor the use of commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short".

      Writing in the 17th century, of course, Hobbes knew little about evolution and nothing of ethology. His knowledge of pre-agricultural societies was drawn exclusively from the travellers' tales of those who had been to the Americas, Africa, or the East Indies. Thus he assumed, reasonably enough, that without formal states and societies people would have no communities at all. That turns out not to be the case, as hunter-gatherers normally live in groups ranging from family size to a few hundred - and they cooperate intensively.

      Models of Hobbes' extreme case show that, as he expected, it's not good. People do vastly better if they cooperate, so we almost always find society developing naturally. People develop morals, and come to expect honesty and straight dealing - even altruism, which is often repaid.

      Now here is the interesting part: in a society where 19 out of 20 are honest, a tempting niche opens up for those who aren't. By pretending to be honest, these criminals (or banksters, politicians, marketing executives, lawyers or whatever you want to call them) leech off the work of others to live comfortably with little effort. It seems that mathematics and nature are against efforts to make everyone good, because in a society where most people are good it is just too tempting to be bad.

    • Profit is theoretically a measure of how much you have served your fellow human beings. (yes, a lot of people have figured out how to cheat the system.) If I want someone to help me with some significant task, I offer them money, which allows them to purchase help with something else from someone else.

      In societies small enough to not need money, help in return for help works just fine "You help me build a house today, I help you build yours tomorrow" In a large society, that doesn't work so well. The g

  • by marciot ( 598356 ) on Saturday January 30, 2016 @12:43PM (#51403465)

    Because pretty much everyone uses gmail, yahoo, Office365 or some other mail service which already does spam filtering. The only person in recent history that I know of running a private e-mail server was Hillary Clinton and see how much good it did her...

  • At the top end, the big tech companies like Google or Microsoft have their own spam-filtering systems in-house. At the bottom, individuals and entities too small to run their own mail servers either depend on Bayesian filtering in their e-mail clients or get email from one of the big tech companies. And in the middle, they either outsource their email to one of the big tech companies or can put together their own spam-filtering solution readily enough using available tools like SpamAssassin that're mostly o

  • Labor costs (Score:5, Funny)

    by tgibson ( 131396 ) on Saturday January 30, 2016 @01:04PM (#51403567) Homepage

    It isn't profitable. It's enormously expensive to pay so many employees to read EACH AND EVERY email to determine if it's spam.

  • by holophrastic ( 221104 ) on Saturday January 30, 2016 @01:27PM (#51403691)

    In the past, spam was mass-flung with no real power. Filtering it was a relatively easy task, with an acceptable false positive rate and an even more acceptable false negative rate.

    Today, while those spams still exist, between e-mail client junk folders and greylisting, the mass-flung spam is little more than an annoyance -- it doesn't have any real negative effect in term of dollars. Virus scanners catch those attachments pretty well too.

    But now we have spear phishing -- real-world big-business, hand-crafted, artisan spamming. No spam filter is ever able to catch any of those. And they do real damage creating real monetary losses for big and small business alike.

    So if your spam filtering business can catch the easy ones that do no real damage, and can't catch the hard ones that do the real big damage, then who's your paying market?

    • by dskoll ( 99328 )

      This is true to some extent. Some targeted attacks are very hard to catch, though there are things you can do to mitigate them.

      But you still need a filter to catch all the background crap that would otherwise overwhelm your inbox.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      real-world big-business, hand-crafted, artisan spamming

      Yes, more or less. The "big-business" stuff, I can handle. There's a profit motive and when they discover that there's no money to be made, they'll move on.

      The stuff I worry about is based on other motives [infosecinstitute.com] which people may not recognize as quickly. Our neighborhood has been the occasional target of several spear phishing attacks. Purportedly about security, police activity and local crime, we have received some carefully crafted personalized e-mail that turns out to originate from phony domains, set up wi

  • The time to have put a stop to spam email was long before Arpanet was even invented, let alone the Internet, or the Internet being opened up for access by the general public. The time to stop spam was way way back when the first bulk advertising mail to 'Resident' first occurred. If the U.S. Postal Service had said 'Hell, no!' to bulk mail, back in the day, we probably wouldn't have spam email now. As the situation stands right now, it's more or less impossible to stop, I'm sorry to say, and as such it's no
  • by Anonymous Coward

    On the commercial side, there is Barracuda. On the free side, there is Spamassasin. That doesn't leave much room for others.

  • by anon mouse-cow-aard ( 443646 ) on Saturday January 30, 2016 @01:42PM (#51403793) Journal
    Full disclosure: my relationship with these people is as a happy customer for... I dunno around a decade for a mid-size organization of about 6000 mailboxes. Sorry if this reads like a commercial, I really am just that happy with these guys.

    https://www.roaringpenguin.com... [roaringpenguin.com] they provide and support CANIT PRO, which is basically mimedefang and spamassassin on a debian base, with dynamically updated blacklists and filtering rules. It works really well. David is one of the guys behind behind mimedefang, so you are also helping open source by going with these guys. The pricing for us was really decent.

    They usually work with appliances, but we managed to use our own configuration to do some sweet stuff: we put the mail filtering cluster in the DMZ, along with the DB. but we put the customization interface is on an internal network. That way there is no firewall exception for the DMZ (ok except SMTP... can't avoid that one.) and the DMZ gateway doesn't need access to internal credentials at all (Active Directory in our case) It just knows that the interface machine on the inside is trustworthy. Even though the DB has no access to authentication services, the users can still customize their filtering to their desire.

    I think for big companies, one concern is that I have never heard anyone rave about spam filtering. In terms of brand-awareness it is a completely one way street, Either people are satisfied with it, in which case they shrug, or they get irrationally violently abusive of the service, and have un-realistic expectations. It is a risk for any major brand to operate spam filtering, with literally no upside (ok, aside form revenue, but if it is a small part of a business, the reputation risk might outweigh the revenues.) Touching people's email brings out all the consipacy buffs you can imagine, and for some small but vociferous group they always have their own solution, and whatever the email admin does is crap. That's a thing that was great about Roaring Penguin's CanIT PRO when we rolled it out, it gave each user the ability to turn off the filtering entirely, if that's what they wanted.

    It worked like a charm. Whenever we got some idiot (the truth hurts!) who thought they could do better, we just said fine, here is how to turn it off. Out of 6000 boxes, we had about 200 opt-out right away, most of them turned it back on within a few days, after a year it was down to 60 or so, and then when there were some malware infection episodes, it came out that their 'custom' solutions were not actually working that well, and everyone came back into the fold. Being able to let people opt-out saved us literally months of pointless arguments while letting us deploy good service for the co-operative many.

    This was for about 7000 mailboxes, which is small as far as mail installations go these days. The real clients for this stuff is hosting providers and outsourcing companies (cloud based) I think the reason for large companies exiting the business is the huge trend of small companies to cloud, there just isn't much of a market for small email installs anymore... People are using huge hosted configurations. It's gradually getting dismantled now because of some organization move to a single outsourced solution with many hundreds of thousands of mailboxes...

  • by dskoll ( 99328 ) on Saturday January 30, 2016 @01:46PM (#51403805) Homepage

    The anti-spam market is small, mature and shrinking as more and more companies outsource their email to Microsoft or Google. While it can be profitable, the actual numbers are way too small to interest behemoths like Intel or Google.

    I happen to run a small anti-spam company. We're doing extremely well, but that's because we have low overhead and can survive quite nicely on the little slice of market share we have. But I have no illusions that my company will be the next Facebook or Google or whatever... we'll chug along steadily for as long as we want to, and we'll make a very nice living at it, but that's about it.

    • by mysidia ( 191772 )

      as more and more companies outsource their email to Microsoft or Google...

      Wait until the cloud craze is over in 4 or 5 years, and businesses begin to get a few more years of experience: to start and recognize what the true disadvantages are / what they have actually lost, and what the extra costs are in this type of outsourcing, So they can make rational decisions instead of buzzword/cloud-initiative-driven decisions.

      There have always been E-mail hosting providers....

      One of the problems is, goi

      • by dskoll ( 99328 )

        Wait until the cloud craze is over in 4 or 5 years...

        You think? I don't think it'll be over. I think it will continue to grow. For most businesses, running a mail server is a pain in the butt and not part of their core business.

        One of the problems is, going with a large hosting provider, means your company no longer gets to set the operational policies

        Most people don't care.

        There are of course additional security risks, and by using a hosting provider, your mailboxes may be additionally subjec

  • put your mail server on a aaaa record only and you will see so little spam that you can filter it manually.

    • by dskoll ( 99328 )

      That is actually not true. We offer a hosted anti-spam service and the ratio of spam-to-ham coming in over IPv6 is still pretty high --- major providers such as Google and Comcast are using IPv6, so it's no longer a "filter-out-the-lusers" protocol.

  • Can't answer any questions about why the spam filtering services you mention are being discontinued, but the providers I work with that use a spam filter for their customers are mainly using Edgewave, with a smaller amount using Barracuda.

  • Spam filters need to go away, as they only pass the buck along in the war on spam. They cost dramatically more than the sticker price (especially when they are "free") as the email is still sent, parsed, and quarantined. After that the filters need their rules updated regularly to catch the latest spammer tricks. Meanwhile as the spammers' botnets get bigger and more sophisticated it just gets that much easier and less expensive to send out spam.

    If you want to end spam, you need to acknowledge that spam is an economic problem and spammers send out spam because they make money doing it. There is one and only one way to end spam, and that is to prevent spammers from making money off of it. No legal - or extralegal - action will slow it down by any meaningful amount. Interrupt the money flow and the spammers will find other work.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Your post advocates a

      ( ) technical ( ) legislative (X) market-based ( ) vigilante

      approach to fighting spam. Your idea will not work. Here is why it won't work. (One or more of the following may apply to your particular idea, and it may have other flaws which used to vary from state to state before a bad federal law was passed.)

      ( ) Spammers can easily use it to harvest email addresses
      (X) Mailing lists and other legitimate email uses would be affected
      (X) No one will be able to find the guy or collect the mone

    • If you want to end spam, you need to acknowledge that spam is an economic problem and spammers send out spam because they make money doing it.

      So how are you going to do this? You do get modded "insightful" for this but in true business fashion you don't give any real solutions. Not even any hints to real solutions.Not even a solid and workable definition of what is spam, and what is not. Often spam is defined as "unsolicited' but what is "unsolicited" really? I put my e-mail address on my web site, asking people to contact me. Anyone can find the address and start sending e-mails on any topic - are these solicited or unsolicited? If you say it's

  • I'm not saying it's the Freemasons, but it's the Freemasons.

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