Anti-spam service battles bugs

A new, much-hyped service has been flooded with questions, frustrations and suggestions for improvement from the community it relies on to fight junk mail.

Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
Stefanie Olsen
4 min read
A new anti-spam service launched with much fanfare this week is facing some technical hurdles out of the gate and frustration from the community it relies on to fight junk mail.

Reader Resources
Download SpamNet 1.0 Beta

The software, launched in beta, or test, form Wednesday by San Mateo, Calif.-based Cloudmark, is geared to cut back on 75 percent of incoming spam by quickly identifying junk mail and filtering it based on input from people using the network. Web surfers must download and install a plug-in, which for now is only available for Microsoft Outlook on Windows 2000 and XP systems.

Since the beta service debuted, SpamNet's community forums have been flooded with questions, frustrations and suggestions for improvement. Some clamoring to enlist in the battle against spam said they have had difficulty installing the software, while others say they can't connect to the network if their computers operate behind a firewall.

Cloudmark has posted in the last day a "Bug Fixes" page for those with problems, asking people to "be patient while we find and post the solutions."

"The core of the software is working well," said Cloudmark CEO Karl Jacob, adding that SpamNet has had thousands of downloads in the last day. "With a beta you're always going to have some configuration problems to start."

The bug page calls out two main problems. One involves Windows NT 4, which may leave out some basic SpamNet tools during installation. The second involves connecting to the service past a corporate firewall. Cloudmark suggests that consumers who have trouble connecting ask their company's system administrator to open the blocked port, or port 2703.

"SpamNet initially did not function, due to our firewall," said David Scavo, director of technology for a marketing consulting company in Alpharetta, Ga., who used the workaround. "The other problem I am still having is that when attempting to report a spam e-mail (using the Block button), the SpamNet plug reports 'connect failed' followed by '1 message reported.'

"Cloudmark claims that this should not occur if port 2703 is open, but I have seen plenty of other people on their message boards reporting the same problem."

Special report
Up to their necks
Spam flood forces companies
to take desperate measures

This is just one hiccup to the service.

Cloudmark's solution requires a free plug-in that plays a minor role in the background of Microsoft Outlook. According to the company, a successful installation will create a new file folder to hold spam messages on the left side of Outlook and a toolbar at the top for reporting junk mail or revoking a spam decision.

Those running Windows NT 4 are finding that after installing SpamNet, it is missing from the "Options" menu under "Tools," which gives people basic access to its functions. Also absent are the standard "Block" and "Unblock" buttons on the toolbar. These tools let people tell the SpamNet network when they think an e-mail should be considered junk.

The problem is that in its current form the software doesn't register necessary files in Windows NT 4, so the company proposes a workaround to the hitch. It's working with its installation partner InstallShield to iron out these problems and introduce an update late Thursday, according to Jacobs.

In a test by CNET News.com on an IBM ThinkPad running Outlook on Windows 2000, the installation did not automatically create a "spam" folder. Instead, the software offered a choice of sending files directly to the "deleted" folder or manually creating a new "spam" folder to divert junk mail.

The test turned up several other problems. The machine crashed while attempting to reboot after installation. Also, the SpamNet toolbar disappeared from Outlook on exiting and restarting the e-mail program, forcing a reinstall.

Despite the problems, SpamNet filtered 29 messages in the first 24 hours of use. That compared with some 235 messages captured during the same period using Outlook's built-in spam filter, which allows people to right-click on an e-mail message to direct all messages from that sender to a "junk e-mail" or "trash" folder.

Complaints aside, at least some SpamNet users appear willing to give Cloudmark a second chance.

"Overall I think Cloudmark has a great concept, but the product was released too early with insufficient testing," said Scavo. "In their defense, the product is clearly labeled as beta software, so I am not really complaining. If they take the feedback of their users and continue to work hard on the product, it has the chance to be a big success."