SurfControl’s Email Filter Does Content Control

SurfControl, as its name suggests, became successful by providing tools that control what Web sites you can access.

It has gradually been extending its control technology to other vectors. In mid-2006, for example, it acquired BlackSpider, a hosted (or "managed") service that filters email, IM, and Web traffic for viruses and spam. At that time, BlackSpider revenues were growing at 40% annually.

The firm's mainstay is still URL filtering, but it has a growing portfolio of technology of interest to the messaging manager. Here's a quick review of the company's Email Filter.

In a nutshell:

  • Scans inbound and outbound mail.
  • Mostly scans SMTP streams, although it can also scan Exchange traffic in small organizations.
  • Virus and spam control.
  • Policy definition and enforcement modules. Architecture centers around conventional regular expression pattern matching, and dictionary look-ups. Scores are gradually built through various tests, and actions are triggered when a threshold is reached.
  • Sold exclusively through channels -- VARs, systems integrators, etc.

The main competitors are:

  • Software solutions: Symantec, Microsoft
  • Services: Postini, MessageLabs, Microsoft
  • Appliances: IronPort, Barracuda, Symantec

Most customers have between 200 and 2,000 employees, and marketing is aimed at this size group. Typical pricing for 1,000 users is around $15/user/year for spam, virus, and content control.

The product has been available since 2002. SurfControl believes its major competitive strengths are:

  • Dictionaries. You get an extended group of lexicons, used for content classification, and these are available at no charge. For example, these help you comply with HIPAA and GLBA.
  • URL Checking. There's good detection of URLs pointing to nasty sites. This clearly leverages SurfControl's strengths in the Web filtering arena, enhanced by the technology from the BlackSpider acquisition.
  • Reporting. You don't just see high-level spam and virus trends. For example, there are reports on compliance of outbound email policies and who's triggering them; users can also generate their own reports. You can easily drill down for further information, and the system integrates with Active Directory.

SurfControl is a public firm. It's doing about $115 million in annual revenues, with 620 staff. Websense plans to acquire it in early October.

... David Ferris and Richi Jennings

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