Sometimes the best things in life really are free, like SpamAssassin 3.1,
an open-source filter from The Apache Software Foundation.
For the second consecutive year, readers voted SpamAssassin the winner in
the anti-spam category in Datamation’s Product of the Year 2006 awards.
The filter received more than three times as many votes as its closest
competitor, Cloudmark Server Edition from Cloudmark, Inc.
SpamAssassin can be used on Windows, Mac, or Unix systems. It often is
”the anti-spam server product of choice used by many mail and Internet
Service Providers to protect their users,” says Lars Eilebrecht,
co-founder of The Apache Software Foundation. ”Many vendors of
commercial anti-spam products and appliances use SpamAssassin as the base
for their products.”
Brad Bell, network manager of Vaxxine Computer Systems, Inc., an ISP in
St. Catharines, Ontario, is a huge fan. Bell filters approximately 10,000
mail accounts, receiving 1 million messages per day, and a good portion
of it is spam.
”Spam is a continually moving target, and spammers are always thinking
of ways to get around the filters so it’s important to keep up with the
new versions, which have new rules to keep up-to-date on spam,” he says.
Bell emphasizes that SpamAssassin is meant to be used with another
product since it doesn’t block spam mail on its own. ”It’s the judge,
not the police,” he explains. ”It’s up to you to decide what to do with
an email,” based on a score the filter gives it.
So if a message contains the word ”Viagra”, it’s not necessarily
classified as spam. The filter looks at all the content of the message,
taking the word ”Viagra” into account, and comes up with a score. If
the message receives a score of more than five, it’s probably spam, says
Bell particularly likes that there are a lot of people involved with
SpamAssassin through The Apache Foundation. ”So it’s very good at doing
what it does,” he says. Unlike licensed software, you don’t have to wait
for updates, Bell notes. Users can go to the SpamAssassin Rules Emporium,
which are continually updated, and then decide how often they want to
update the filter.
”You have full access to the source code of SpamAssassin and the rules
so you can customize it to make sure certain mail is blocked,” he adds.
”Some of our users like spam more than others; for example, stock spam.
Most people don’t want it, but there’s the odd person who wants the
stock-related messages to come through. So you can weight list things for
certain people.” Bell says he also can add his own rules to the filter.
SpamAssassin also constantly checks the online Domain Name System
blacklists, which detail spam sources, Bell says. ”That’s another method
of tackling moving targets.”
”It’s a great product. It’s free. What more can you ask?” says Bell.
Rounding out the other finalists in the anti-spam software category were
PureMessage from Sophos Inc., in third place, and CANIt-Pro from Roaring
Penguin Software, Inc.