01 Oct Franklin Firm to Pick Fight with Postini?
FRANKLIN, WI. – A business Internet Service Provider (ISP) in a southern suburb of Milwaukee is marshalling its forces – getting ready to launch a virus protection service that could compete with the likes of BrightMail, CipherTrust, FirstBridge, McAfee and Postini.
Cyberlynk Network Inc. already offers a spam filtering solution, and plans to add virus protection to the service offering in the next two months, according to Network Operations Engineer Adam Hobach — son of owner Michael Hobach.
Cyberlynk, run largely by Adam Hobach and marketing staffer Karl Radke, makes its bread and butter providing fixed wireless, T3, T1 and other hardwire connectivity to businesses in Wisconsin and Illinois. But over a year ago, Adam Hobach became irritated by the growing influx of spam to his own mailbox. He began working on a spam filtering system with a number of weighted tests that determine if a message is valid or something the recipient would regard as a nuisance.
“In a single day, I was getting 1,600 messages,” Hobach said. “We developed a product that we wrote ourselves. It uses a weighted system – so an email has to fail multiple tests in order to be judged as spam.”
Currently, the spam filtering system utilizes a system of 35 tests – and new tests are added regularly, according to Hobach. Criteria include content filtering for phrases – rather than keywords – to cut down on false positives. The litany of tests also includes a pass through an existing commercial application – Spam Cop – and a look at the originating mail server to see if the message came from a an address contained in a regularly-updated black list. Like Postini, Hobach’s Agent Spam works as an application service provider. Customers’s email is routed over Cyberlynk’s spam filter servers — a process that delays receipt by about two seconds.
Solutions like Postini and Agent Spam are rapidly replacing home-spun solutions like those generated by Josh Blooming of Milwaukee-based RAM Group, Inc. The Ram Group produces high-quality line art for technical manuals and provides other information services. “I was trying to do things by scanning for keywords,” Blooming, who has become an Agent Spam devotee, said. “But the way they are modifying words – slipping an exclamation point in there – that doesn’t work anymore. If you sort by sender – the same sender would only send for four days. They are just revolving who the sender is. Eventually, it just got to be a pain in the ass to do.”
Agent Spam users can have the system delete messages identified as spam outright, but most, according to Hobach, opt to have suspected spam quarantined for later review. This allows the recipient to pull out legitimate messages flagged by Agent Spam.
Jeff Tangen, CIO of Pediatric Stroke Network, is an Agent Spam user who said some bugs have yet to be worked out of the system.
“I need to talk to Cyberlynk to see if they can fix something,” Tangen – who volunteers his services to the organization for parents of juvenile stroke victims – said. “When you have a URL or multiple URLs in an email – that is one thing that I see misidentified. What someone will do is send an email saying ‘take a look at these links.’ The spam filter will say ‘that is spam because you have those links in there.’ So when we parents who are sending lists of links back and forth for informational purposes, that is a problem.”
Hobach said that in his experience, less than one percent of messages identified by his program as spam turn out to be legitimate. The level of protection – and the pricing strategy – make it a good option for smaller or midmarket businesses, he said.
Redwood City, Cal.-based Postini – which enjoys high top-of-mind awareness and growing market share – charges a company of 1 to 100 users $257.00 a month for the service – plus a $400.00 setup fee. Cyberlynk is offering its Agent Spam product for $45 per month with a $35 setup fee. Cyberlynk also offers free use of Agent Spam during a 30-day evaluation period.
“Small to medium size businesses are not likely to purchase this service from Postini due to the expense,” Radke said. “We are one-fifth the cost and provide almost identical service.”
As virus protection is added to the mix, the price point will not change, according to Radke. Hobach said the system will expunge not only obvious viruses like .DXE files, but ASP and XML scripting that exploit vulnerabilities in Microsoft Outlook and other programs.
But even without virus protection, the popularly-priced service has gained converts not only in Cyberlynk’s home base, but in California, Indiana, Texas and Virginia.
“It is a neat model,” Radke said. “It lets us move beyond the borders of the southeastern part of the state and northeast Illinois. And we are making money doing it.”
Cyberlynk’s servers on a major Internet hub in Chicago – with redundant connections to the Franklin headquarters and Racine data center – provide reliability comparable to Postini – which processes all of its customers’ emails at a Santa Clara data center regardless of where the customer is geographically located. While the systems are comparable in many regards – with the exception that Postini currently operates more servers — Radke said Cyberlynk is planning a conservative strategy, and is not planning to go head-to-head with nationwide competitors just yet.
“Our out-of-state business is mostly generated from the Web,” Radke said. “Right now, our focal point will be southeast Wisconsin and northeast Illinois. There is a lot of potential in our own back yard.”
Available budget for a major product rollout was one reason Radke cited for the lack of a more aggressive strategy. But low-cost Web marketing strategies are driving some business his way.
“We signed up a guy yesterday who found us through a Web search,” Radke said. “He said the pricing is perfect for him and his 26-employee company. He looked at Postini – but said we are doing what they are doing for a better rate.”
Charles Rathmann is a freelance writer and contributor to Wisconsin Technology Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.