Middlesex University Chooses PreciseMail
99% of Spam Eliminated for Over 24,000 Email Users
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Middlesex University Profile
Middlesex University is one of the largest universities in the United
Kingdom. It has over 22,000 students and 2,500 staff. There are several
campuses across North London. Middlesex University also teaches more
international students (over 5,000) than any other United Kingdom
university. Offering a wide and flexible range of undergraduate and
postgraduate programs, it is also the world leader in Work Based
Learning and has major contracts with the NHS and the TTA to train
nurses, midwives and teachers.
Email is an important communications tool at Middlesex University.
It is used for administrative purposes and for communication between
staff and students. Recent increases in the amount of spam being
received had made some users' email accounts almost unusable. "Reviewing
every email is time-consuming, but necessary when you are looking
at the subject line and can't determine if messages are spam or legitimate," said
David Webb, Security Team Leader of CCSS at Middlesex University. "The
quantity of spam a user receives daily varies. I am inundated with
approximately 100 to 150 spam messages per day."
The University subscribes to three different anti-spam blacklist
services, which block known spam sources, registered dialup addresses,
open-relays, and more. "These services stop a large amount of
spam and were sufficient for many years. However, the growth in spam
means that these services alone were no longer sufficient. Spam still
accounted for approximately 50% of email coming into the University," said
Before Webb began to evaluate anti-spam solutions,
he identified several key requirements:
- Accuracy - High spam detection
rate with a minimum amount of false positives (loss of legitimate
- Flexibility - The ability to
customize a spam filtering solution to specific University requirements.
- Ease of management and deployment - It was important
to deploy a solution centrally on the University's mailhubs. Webb
did not want to have to purchase, deploy and support a myriad of
solutions associated with different email clients and web browsers
(allowing web based access to email) on the desktop.
- User control over spam definitions - The final
disposition of messages needed to be under user control. Middlesex
University did not want to be in the position of censoring/deleting
email just because an anti-spam product thinks that a particular
message is spam.
Webb evaluated anti-spam freeware software and several solutions
offered by anti-virus vendors. He rejected the freeware as a viable
solution for the University because it was not easy to deploy, had
poor performance, and lacked the flexibility of a web-based interface.
The anti-spam products offered by anti-virus vendors treated spam
in a similar way to viruses. "The problem is that whereas false
positives for viruses are extremely low, spam is much less well defined.
One person's spam is another person's important email message," said
Webb. The anti-virus vendors provided only minimal user-based controls
over spam definitions.
After considerable testing and feedback from users, Middlesex University
implemented PreciseMail Anti-Spam Gateway software as their solution.
PreciseMail Anti-Spam Gateway was easy to install on the University's
mailhubs. "It stops 99% of the spam consistently without filtering
out legitimate email. After setting up my allowlist, I am getting
practically zero false positives. Our users are also experiencing the
same results," said Webb.
PreciseMail Anti-Spam Gateway's flexibility gave Middlesex University
the ability to customize the product to meet their specific requirements. "Although
PreciseMail Anti-Spam Gateway is an effective out-of-the-box solution,
a key feature is the ability to add and tune filters," said Webb.
There are several accounts at the University where students send inquiries
about courses from all over the world. Since these accounts are well
publicized, they garner a lot of spam. They also have the potential
to generate false positives. Creating an allowlist (senders or domains
that always bypass the filters) will not solve the problem of false
positives because there is no way to predict the email address of the
sender ahead of time. As a result, Webb adjusted filtering scores and
added some rules in order to adapt the filtering to the type of email
the University receives.
Also important to Middlesex University is PreciseMail Ant i- Spam
Gateway's ability to be easily deployed in their existing email environment. "The
installation and configuration process on the Alpha and both nodes
of the Internal mailhub cluster was fairly simple," said Webb.
The University authenticates users’ access to the web-based
interface, in order to manage their spam, in several ways. Users whose
email is stored on the Alpha cluster are authenticated against the
Alpha's IMAP server. Users whose email is stored on one of the internal
systems are authenticated against both our Novell NDS (via a POP server)
and also against Microsoft's Active Directory (via LDAP).
PreciseMail Anti-Spam Gateway offers the most user-based controls
compared to other anti-spam solutions that Webb researched. "Since
what is and is not spam is such a slippery concept, users needed to
be able to set their own spam filtering definitions," said Webb.
PreciseMail Anti-Spam Gateway is configured to tag email that is likely
to be spam by default. Users can setup filtering in their email client
to move tagged messages into a separate folder for review.
It is then up to the individual user to alter these default settings
via the web-based interface by adding addresses into their personal
allowlist or blocklists. Users can access the web-based interface to
quarantine suspect email on the mail hubs rather than having it tagged
and delivered. This email can also be reviewed, deleted, or released
through the same web interface. After a certain period, which is configurable
by a system administrator, quarantined email is automatically deleted.
By default email is deleted after 14 days. However at Middlesex University,
quarantined email is set to be deleted automatically after a five day
period. This period will probably be extended in the future once
it has been established how many people wish to use quarantining and
the amount of disk space this might consume.
Webb is pleased with PreciseMail Anti-Spam Gateway's performance
and met his requirement of integrating with the University's mailhubs.
Webb reported, "Although PreciseMail Anti-Spam Gateway is running
on the same system as the mailhubs, its performance has not been impacted."
Webb measures PreciseMail Anti-Spam Gateway's success by the fact
that the Help Desk is no longer getting complaints about spam. They
also did not get as many questions from users as they first anticipated.
Webb added, "The web-based interface is self explanatory. The
intuitive interface combined with user education resulted in few Help
Desk inquiries." In addition, he has received positive feedback
from users. "One user sent me an email claiming to be ecstatic
to have a product that filters the spam so effectively."