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What's new at the Firewall

Utilities search for ways to combat viruses and spam.
Fortnightly Magazine - January 2004

But what if a business partner or employee wanted to send a message with the subject line "Ways to Increase ROI on Energy Management Systems"? It's hardly the type of e-mail that should be declared spam and deleted before the recipient has seen it. It's the classic false positive dilemma.

The struggle is to balance the catch rate against the spam entry rate. Many industry experts recommend a catch rate of around 90 percent. Much higher and the false positive rate is unacceptable; much lower and the spam load is too high for comfort and cost. One tool that many vendors use to combat the false positive problem is quarantining, but not deleting, some suspicious e-mails. The quarantine system can be implemented in numerous ways. Users can be sent a digest of addresses and subject lines, and given instructions on how to access the quarantined mail. Another option is to have network administrators approve or disapprove suspected spams.

If the type of messages that various workgroups receive are different enough to cause false positive problems, another approach is to set up different spam policies for different workgroups. For example, those working in finance likely won't be on the receiving end of legitimate e-mails with strong four-letter language, but customer service is quite likely to receive such missives-and in fact, it could be disastrous if the utility didn't receive such customer complaints.

While e-mail has been a boon for utility productivity, 2003 demonstrates that utility technology gurus cannot relax their guard when it comes to one of the most basic business communications tools. But if they play their cards right, they may just become a hero by helping management improve productivity and cut costs in a still topsy-turvy industry.


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