Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Spam is headed off at the pass


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Spam isn't all bad, right? In fact, aren't most spammers pretty philanthropic? They want to make me rich through can't-miss schemes, enhance my sex life and lower my mortgage rates, right?

Wrong.

Spam clogs servers, spreads viruses and cuts productivity.

Enter downtown-based Mycom Group Inc., and its relatively new product mailMax II. The company completed filing for a federal trademark for the software Monday.

More specifically, talk with Cincinnati e-tech scene veteran Chad Mattix, who started Pinnacle Computers, which was gobbled up by another firm that eventually was gobbled up by what is now Mycom.

Mattix is now vice president of managed services for Mycom. It launched its anti-spam service mailMax II in January (http://www.mycompro.com/mailmax/).

He says the new program filters out spam by using 50,000 different parameters.

The cool thing is that the program does this before any e-mail even hits a company's own network, acting like the traffic cop on the off ramp from the Internet, although the company in question sets up its own parameters on what to let through. The program also scans outgoing messages, in case a spammer has shanghaied a particular computer from afar.

"It started in 1998 when we were just getting started and about 30 percent was spam," says Mattix, 33, a Miami University graduate. "Now it is over 90 percent. This is a big problem, and we were looking for solutions to find it."

The parameters can even sort out a relatively new and more insidious type of spam called a "phish." These messages look like they came from legitimate sources, asking for personal information. I've gotten one that appears to come from Microsoft's security department.

A friend of mine sent another particularly nasty one that looked like it came from US Bank, asking for account information.

"We go back and check all the sources of the URLs and put that into the score so those messages won't make it through," Mattix says.

Last month, one cluster of mailMax computer servers handled 6.1 million messages heading to 114 companies. Of those, 73 percent were spam.

That percentage is low. Mattix says it has peaked at 91 percent this week, with the figure getting higher weekly.

"We know our service will have a demand, and that's why we set it up as this model, something renewable," he says.

MailMax II costs a company about $3 a user on its network - sorry, it is not for individual home computers, only for those with a domain name. Volume discounts are available for bigger firms. .

The program is a little late to the game, but Mattix is counting on the market growing exponentially as companies get even more frustrated over spam. Gartner Research says there are at least 25 companies vying for a slice of what could be more than $1 billion in business.

Mattix also says the program should not mean the loss of any IT jobs.

"We are only looking to outsource the technical capabilities, while the strategy and maintenance remains in house," Mattix says, displaying the web-based management screen that anyone could set and change with the right passwords.

The program has one happy customer in Julie Taylor, network administrator for the downtown accounting firm J.D. Cloud & Co. LLP.

"I love them, love them, love them," she says. "We were getting about 1,000 a day unfiltered, and now, it's down to a very few a week. And considering that we're paying them about $90 a month, it's a bargain."

She added that the system has made her network virtually virus-free, and it is constantly being upgraded.

"I can also block sound and movie files that clog the network and that may be cute, but hurt productivity at the office," Taylor says.

Mycom is a public company, and its shares were selling at 5 cents over-the-counter Monday. It earned $2.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2003.

"When we created our own software, that changed the whole ball game," Mattix says. "We have a great base here in Cincinnati, with the bandwidth level here. We think we can carve our own footprint in this market."

On behalf of those tired of misspelled Viagra messages and pitches to help that guy in Africa, here's hoping that Mycom makes it.

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E-mail jpilcher@enquirer.com




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