Spam Slayer: Don't Can Spam, Cube It

Spam Cube

If the federal CAN-SPAM law can't put a lid on junk e-mail, one company is trying to cube it. The company, Spam Cube, has introduced a $150 anti-spam hardware product, called the Spam Cube, that filters spam, phishing e-mail, and messages infected with viruses for as many as four PCs.

Spam Cube back, showing connections

Spam Cube doesn't charge subscription fees for spam filtering. However, it does charge $52 per year for its optional Security OnDemand service, which adds protection from viruses and phishing scams with McAfee and Symantec antivirus scanning of e-mail and Spam Cube's anti-phishing technology.

To use Spam Cube, you simply plug the four-inch square device between your cable or DSL modem and your wired or wireless router. All e-mail traffic that passes through the hardware is analyzed, suspected spam and phishing e-mails are red-flagged, and virus-laden e-mails are nixed.

Network Security Products Proliferate

Spam Cube represents a growing trend in computer security solutions that rely on hardware plugged into a network to protect multiple PCs, rather than software programs installed on individual PCs.

Other recent entrants to this category come from TrustELI and Netgear.

TrustELI offers Eli, a network security appliance that filters spam, offers protection against viruses and phishing attacks, and includes a firewall. Eli costs $200 and will run you $120 per year for updates to the security service.

Netgear's Super G Wireless Router--Security Edition ($80) protects up to ten PCs from spam, viruses, phishing, and spyware, and it includes a firewall. It also comes with Trend Micro's Home Network Security software. After the first year, updates cost $99 annually.

There are advantages to network security hardware. Primarily, by running security processes on a network, as opposed to on every PC, individual computers are spared the security software that can sometimes tax a system's performance with scanning, filtering, and defensive shielding processes.

Test Drive

I tested the Spam Cube for a few days, using it with one PC over my office's network connection. I was impressed by its simple setup and how easy it was to work with. But I do have some reservations.

Spam Cube labels suspicious e-mail messages by adding "[SPAM]," [VIRUS]," or "[PHISH]" to the subject line. The device works seamlessly with Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express, once you install a specialized Spam Cube toolbar on your PC. The toolbar creates filtering rules for both e-mail clients that dump unwanted e-mail into either a Spam or Virus folder; it also provides "This is Spam" and "This is Not Spam" buttons for teaching the device what you consider spam.

On the downside, Spam Cube does not make a toolbar for non-Microsoft e-mail clients. If you use Mozilla Thunderbird or Eudora, for example, you have to define your own rules to automatically move e-mail into folders of your choice. And if Spam Cube labels legitimate e-mail as spam, the only way to correct it is by launching a Web browser and visiting the Spam Cube Web Control Panel.

But non-Outlook users shouldn't have to fuss with teaching the Spam Cube very often. According to the company, the device accurately blocks 95 percent of spam out of the box and 98 percent of spam after it has been trained. It uses a combination of anti-spam techniques that includes identifying spam based on the message's characteristics and "interpreting" the messages as spam or legitimate.

In my limited tests, Spam Cube was about 95 percent accurate when filtering spam, phishing e-mails, and blocking viruses. However, my tests were not extensive enough to draw any final conclusions.

My biggest concern using this product, or another network security appliance like it, is that its protective power is limited to computers on a network. If you use a notebook that is frequently outside of the network, devices like the Spam Cube have limited value. That's because the e-mail clients protected are dependent on the network hardware to identify and filter out spam, viruses, and phishing messages. Once you are outside of its sphere of influence, you are left with no e-mail protection.

Overall, I think Spam Cube does a good job at stopping spam and is great for those with more than one PC in the home or office that they want to protect. For parents who double as the family's computer support techie, Spam Cube offers a simple, hassle-free approach to protecting inboxes. It stands out from other competing network security appliances in that it offers a one-time investment when it comes to fighting spam.

Stay tuned for a more extensive review of Spam Cube's accuracy at filtering spam.

Send gripes, questions, and tips for the spam wars to Tom Spring. Visit our Info Center for more articles.
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