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Antivirus firm takes on junk e-mail

Trend Micro jumps into the antispam fray, unveiling new software it hopes will help IT managers protect their workers from an increasing barrage of unwanted messages.

Antivirus company Trend Micro is jumping into the antispam fray, unveiling new software it hopes will help information technology managers protect their workers from an increasing barrage of unwanted messages.

The company will announce Monday that it has partnered with antispam services company Postini to release its Spam Prevention Service (SPS), network-level software designed to fight junk e-mail.

"We developed this antispam solution because we believe that the most effective place to implement antispam policy is the same as it is for viruses and other malicious code: at the Internet gateway," David Rowe, executive vice president of global marketing for Trend Micro, said in a statement.

The software will use a scientific method known as heuristics, which calculates the probability that a particular e-mail is spam by examining a pattern of characteristics in the message.

Trend Micro said SPS will process messages in real time as soon as they enter a company's network, sorting spam into one of five categories: sexually explicit, hate mail, get-rich-quick schemes, bulk newsletters and commercial offerings. Companies can then tailor how they want to handle the spam.

Many companies are rushing into the antispam market, hoping to capitalize on people's frustration with bulk messages. Options for spam blocking include server- and PC-based filters as well as "black hole" lists that block mail from certain IP addresses, but none are preventing a spam influx that's spiraling out of control. As much as 50 percent of all messages in a given corporate in-box are unwanted e-mail, according to a Gartner Group study from December of last year.

Trend Micro said its SPS service acts much like its antivirus programs, updating itself to keep abreast of the latest trends in bulk messaging. The company is selling the service as a standalone product and as an addition to its existing antivirus and content security programs. The software will cost between $4 and $30 per user annually.

The software is immediately available on Sun Microsystems' Solaris operating system. A Windows version is set for release later this month, and a Linux version is slated for late in the second quarter.

Trend Micro said the service is based on technology that catches 90 percent to 95 percent of spam with a rate of fewer than 1 in 80,000 false positives, a bold claim in an era where antispam programs have suffered massive criticism for over- and underblocking spam.

Among others dealing with spam, EarthLink and America Online have promised new antispam tools for their subscribers to help fight a spam epidemic that could make in-boxes nearly impossible to wade through. And some companies are turning to the courts. Microsoft is so fed up with spammers that it has actually sued in federal court to learn the identities of some, and it has promised to pursue similar suits. Both AOL and EarthLink have won monetary damages in suits against spammers.

Meanwhile, an Australian entrepreneur has introduced a proposal for a service that would attempt to discourage spammers by charging for the privilege of sending its subscribers an e-mail.