Email Security – what goes on behind the scenes?

I was recently locked in a room for an afternoon for various presentations on the subject of email security – such is the rock and roll lifestyle I lead here at Virtual IT. However I did find it mildly enlightening and it did make me think a little about how a very involved and technical process can remain almost invisible to the end user.

Email has in many cases become the bane of our lives, and at times it feels we have become slaves to our inboxes. I’m sure we all have the days when we feel that all we have managed to do that day is prevent our inbox from swamping us completely. Yes, there are all kind of arguments as to whether there are better and more innovative ways to communicate but for now I am working on the assumption that email will be ruling our lives in this way for some time yet.

Now, would you believe me if I told you that if it wasn’t for some clever mail security tech working in the background, your daily grind could very easily be much worse?! Well it could.

Your exchange server is most likely running some flavor of spam filter, various ones are available, but the one we use and provide as part of our managed service on our hosted mail platforms is from Symantec. It is very much seen as an “industry standard” solution and is certainly the most popular one.

There are various processes that the mail goes through before being approved for delivery. Among other things – as well as going through multiple virus scanners, there are various checks made on the content of the mail. The mail is scanned for keywords, suspicious embedded links, it also checks whether the senders mail or domain triggers any red flags as being malicious or spam related. All of this typically takes place within a few seconds before a message is either quarantined or passed on to your mailbox. Somewhere between 5 and 6 billion emails in any given month are treated in this way by this service.

Believe it or not, once the spam filter has completed its job it will have stopped around 90% of emails reaching your inbox – so the emails that you have in front of you represent only 10% of what was actually intended for you! How much less useful a tool would email be if this didn’t happen? All this happens behind the scenes, you don’t actually see it happen but you get to see the results of it. This is very much a case of one of those things that we take for granted despite the fact that there are vast amounts of costly technology that go into making this happen. A key point is that unless you are employed by one of these providers you don’t really need to know about. In short there is a vast array of technology to try to ensure that your inbox is not more congested than it undoubtedly already is.

This idea of systems working invisibly to make your life easier is a good case in point and does lead me nicely to us here at Virtual IT. As for Virtual IT and indeed any managed services provider, there is invariably a lot of time and expense that goes into the provisioning and maintenance of back-end systems. Providing our customer base with a stable infrastructure does not simply happen by magic, these technologies and the infrastructure delivering them are constantly evolving. As far as both hardware and software goes the systems are forever being added to – however the end user is largely unaware of what is happening behind the scenes (nor would they need to be).

What you are paying for when you buy into a managed service is in effect the end result, and not the process itself. I don’t particularly need to know how things like this work in practicality any more than I need to know exactly what happens when I turn the key to start my car.

Rather than have to delve in the minutiae of how it is delivered, perhaps it is better to concentrate on the end result of putting your trust in a managed service partner with a track record for delivering these services.


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