There is a modern proverb that goes something like this:
Acknowledge the bad, but focus on the good.
In sum: do not be so naive as to think that bad things do not exist in this world, but rather choose to spend your energy and time focusing on the good things instead. Make a conscious decision that focusing on the good will not only get you further in life, but ultimately make you happier.
Before we get too carried away here – no, this is not a self-help, positive thinking piece - in the world of technology, IT professionals spend more than their fair share of time focusing on the bad, and it is often out of necessity. Every security decision comes with its own set of trade-offs, and IT professionals are often choosing the lesser of two evils.
But, the sentiment behind this saying poses an interesting question: can focusing on the good ever make you more secure?
However, the solutions we have in place to protect our email messaging systems typically do not adhere to the principle above. Rather, they hone in on the “bad”.
These methods range from the mainstream (content filters) to the paranoid (disposable email address services). They all offer some degree of control over abusive email, but none are perfect and many are time consuming.
So here we are - 32 years into the problem of spam, billions of dollars deep into the problem of solving it, but still haven’t been able to eliminate it.
Worse, in 2009, “spam” email comprised 81% of all messages sent. And while some general characteristics can be used to describe what the messages that comprise this 81% figure may have looked like (illegal html, all capital letters, invalid recipient field etc.), the truth of the matter is that the characteristics of spam are continually evolving.
In addition, every day nearly 150,000 new zombie computers are created and an average of 10,000 new malicious code signatures are added to software vendor Symantec’s threat database.
In sum: the ways in which the “bad guys” present themselves, and the methods they use to try to present themselves, are continually evolving.
So if the characteristics of 81% of email traffic purposefully vary on a continually basis, is there any constant in this equation?
Yes: the “good” guys.
The sending source, sending address, headers and general content you receive from email senders you communicate with on a regular basis has remained relatively constant - namely because there is little incentive for your colleague, mother, best friend, boss, personal trainer, roommate, or child to manipulate the properties of email.
They have a message they wish to send to you, and they do exactly that. The systems they use to send these messages to you all act alike and the email addresses they utilize are generally unvarying.
And it is these contacts and contact sources that comprise a successful whielist. For those interested in learning more about email whitelist best practices, check out the new Sendio white paper below How to Reclaim your Email Using Whitelists.