October 4, 2008

Athletics Win With Antivirus

By Anonymous

Low-cost, easy-to-deploy software defeats spam at Penn State University. Universities and colleges often face a more challenging IT and network security challenge than typical corporate networks. With the rise of peer-to-peer (P2P), file sharing and MP3 trading, campuses have become a haven for viruses and spyware. By nature, these networks are fairly open and unsegmented. Penn State University is no exception.

"Part of the responsibility of our IT administrators is to recognize flaws and vulnerable points of contention within our e- mail program, systems and networks by proactively assessing and safeguarding them before any significant turmoil begins," says Philip Mansfield, systems administrator for intercollegiate athletics at Penn State University. "While Penn State has some robust systems in place, the functionality of our antispam software was at risk.

Philip Mansfield, systems administrator for intercollegiate athletics at Penn State University, found that existing antivirus software was not dependable.

"The e-mail antivirus software we were using was tied directly into the Outlook mail server, and, at times, when an outside problem occurred with the mail server, it could become necessary to shut down antivirus functions completely, causing serious impact," he says. "More than one instance of server problems slowing the network and causing multiple delays affected e-mail performance for the coaches, professors and support staff. A change needed to be made."

Penn State utilizes existing in-house antivirus software, which is installed directly onto the Outlook e-mail server. Due to the typical amount of spam within any educational institution, there is a need to have antispam and antivirus software running. The existing backend server was in place and handling the basics of e-mail security; however, this system had a setup where all the extra features were set up as add-ons and were not getting the optimum performance for the money. Optical character recognition (OCR) and virus scanning, for example, were much desired benefits, but came at a price.

Mansfield decided to look for a better method to support the group. To supplement the existing antivirus software already installed, he sought a front-end gateway SMTP solution. "We were looking for a solution that would provide greater spam filtration, as well as freeing up the workload of the back-end provider," he explains.


"Penn State works like most education institutions with a focus on best-practice results from any software purchases, while adhering to a tightly managed budget," Mansfield offers. "Therefore, we needed a solution that would allow a premium antivirus scan at an attractive price."

Embedding text in images is a popular spamming practice to avoid text processing in antispam engines. OCR enables the spam firewall to analyze the text rendered inside the images. To mitigate attempts by spammers to foil OCR through speckling, shading or color manipulation, the spam firewall uses a number of lightweight image- processing technologies to normalize the images prior to the OCR phase.

"We wanted a full range of antivirus, antispam, antispyware and content security solutions, which can protect all aspects of an institution's IT network, servers and personal computers," he explains. "After a thorough evaluation of several, we chose to use SpamTitan for it's advanced antispam filtering and ease of use. We especially liked the fact that we could download it and try it out free of charge for a period of time. For the features we were gaining, most antispam software came with a much higher price tag than the $1,000 that we paid for 500 licenses.

"Image spam represents about onethird of all traffic on the Internet," he says. "SpamTitan uses image-analysis techniques that protect against new image variants. OCR is one such technique that seems to work ."


"The downloading process was simple and straightforward," he says, "a matter of answering a few simple questions, making a few minor system reconfigurations. It was running for all 500 licenses within an hour. The test drive download suited us particularly well in that we could see what messages would be blocked.

"We also appreciated the intuitive methodology, which meant that we could have any of our questions answered online before needing to contact a support staff," he continues. "When we compare the advanced antispam filtering capabilities, the software's ease of use, fast deployment and affordable price to other antivirus software packages and installation procedures, the savings and ROI are substantial."

Once the software was deployed, Mansfield's team saw immediate results. Users no longer were required to go through a long list of e-mails each day to weed through spam messages. Where some personnel were receiving more than 300 messages in quarantine daily, there are now only 10, with a greater than 99 percent accuracy level. Even with a cautious quarantine level in place, daily spam reporting has gone from an average of 1,900 per day to 210 per day.

"Although it is impossible to completely eliminate receiving spam, we have found that utilizing SpamTitan's spam filter helped reduce the amount of unwanted messages and has eliminated the need to shut down the virus scan for outside problems," Mansfield says. "Another attractive feature was the method whereby phishing attempts are classified as a virus. In this manner, it would not allow the end-user to accidentally pass these along.

"It was important to find a solution that offers not only e-mail security but also protection from viruses, Trojans, phishing and unwanted content," he adds.

Copyright Nelson Publishing Sep 2008

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