There is a common misperception that anti-spam and content filtering are one and the same – with the result that anti-spam solutions often perform badly when companies expect the software to perform content filtering tasks and vice versa. 

“Companies often get the two confused because they assume that the anti-spam solution will also act as a content filter while interrogating the information contained in E-mail messages in order to determine whether or not it is spam,” says Brett Casey, CEO of Securicom.
“However, the mechanisms necessary to perform the two tasks are very different so even the most specialised piece of anti-spam software will never be 100% effective in performing content filtering tasks.”
He advises companies to be aware of the differences and to avoid lumping the two together as there are dangers associated with not having the right mechanisms in place to manage the type of information flowing in and out of their networks.
“Companies are legally liable for inappropriate content circulated by employees and could face a stiff fine if they fail to manage the type of information entering and exiting their networks via E-mail.
“Furthermore, companies that don’t have measures in place to manage the flow of confidential business and client information could find themselves in contravention of certain regulatory compliance requirements.
“As such, it is important to clear the haze in terms of what anti-spam solutions can actually do and why it is important to manage content filtering separately” Casey says.
He explains that content filtering is a mechanism used by companies to ensure that the type of information entering and exiting company networks via E-mail adheres to the organisation’s internal corporate mail usage policies.
“These applications are used for an entirely different purpose to anti-spam solutions, which are only there to block and remove unsolicited commercial mail messages. Because they are designed to perform different tasks, they work in very different ways. There only commonality is that they should both be maintained upstream, at the ISP,” he says.
On the other hand, content filtering is performed using a steadfast set of rules which are specifically configured according to the user’s requirements and the company’s internal corporate E-mail usage policy.
Casey also warns against using applications designed for content filtering to manage spam.
“While a specialised content filtering package could be used, with the correct amount of human intervention, to stop spam, the software would merely be reacting on the user-configured rules.
“Content applications therefore require intensive administration when used to combat spam and this also lends itself to human error and increased false positive rate (legitimate mail being identified as spam). In order to effectively detect and block spam, the system must be dynamic and work according to logic filters rather than the steadfast rules used for content filtering,” he says.
Ideal anti-spam solutions require little to no administration and limited access to changing rules, casey adds. They also provide automated updates so companies receive information about new attacks prior to becoming the targets.
He points out that the first step towards effective content filtering is to establish an internal corporate mail usage policy. Once this is in place, a content filtering solution should be selected based on its ability to effectively implement and manage the restrictions imposed by the E-mail usage policy.
“Companies should also take care to select a solution that can be easily managed,” he advises, adding that without having a set of internal mail usage policies in place, content filtering solutions will also fail to live up to an organisation’s filtering expectations.”