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The University of Southampton

MailScanner development could ease spam scourge

Published: 24 September 2004

A new anti-spam feature devised by MailScanner mastermind, Julian Field, could lessen the amount of junk mail that companies and individuals receive.

The new development works by using a spam filtering system which scores messages, deleting those which are the most 'spammy' and wrapping the remaining ones in other messages so that if they happen to be offensive, the recipient is shielded from the full impact.

Spam and viruses are now persistent and recurring threats to the security of the Internet, threatening the operations of business and public networks, companies, and government departments, as well as personal email accounts worldwide.

Julian, who is based in the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton, began developing MailScanner in 2000, and it has now become the world's most widely-used email security and anti-spam system, protecting around 40,000 sites around the world, and blocking 500 million spam messages daily. This month, he launches a Guide to MailScanner which brings together all the information about the software for its thousands of users around the world.

According to Julian, the success of his operation lies in its open source system. He comments: "To perform its role securely, MailScanner must be reliable and trustworthy. The only way to achieve the required level of trust is to be open source, an approach that commercial suppliers are not willing to take. By virtue of being open source, the technology has been reviewed many times over by some of the world's best and brightest in the field of computer security."

Julian claims that the system's spam handling technology is ahead of the competition. He comments: "Our spam handling features are much more flexible than other systems. Even if our system thinks a message is spam, it can still let it through but can wrap it up in another message so that if it is offensive, it won't hit you in the face."

The success of MailScanner can be judged from the fact that it is used in some of the world's leading organizations, including Vodafone Europe, US Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, Harvard, MIT, and Cambridge universities, and Amnesty International, Friends Of The Earth and the British Antarctic Survey. The technology is fast becoming the standard email solution at many ISP sites for virus protection and spam filtering.

Julian continues to develop MailScanner's capabilities and upgrade the system: "By being open source, I can react very quickly to add extra layers of defence when the virus writers try to exploit a newly discovered vulnerability in users' email applications," he says. "MailScanner does not solely rely on the virus scanners to protect messages-there are multiple levels of defence so that users are protected from new virus outbreaks before the commercial (closed-source) AV vendors publish detection signatures for them."

The MailScanner book was written and published to provide a single central easy-to-use resource that brings together information about using MailScanner from many different locations on the net to help all the administrators who use it. It also provides a very in-depth analysis of the design of MailScanner to assist more advanced users managing complex configurations for large sites.

An article in last month's PC PRO magazine fully underlined Julian's role in the global fight against viruses: 'How many of you have "Julian Field gets run over by a bus" as a bullet point in your disaster recovery plan?' it warned.

Notes for editors

  1. MailScanner: A User Guide and Training Manual is available to order from the Mailscanner web site:
  2. The School of Electronics and Computer Science is one of the world's leading centres of research in computer science, software engineering, electrical engineering and electronics.
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