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Early last fall, the amount of junk e-mail, or spam, clogging my in-box went through the roof. I couldn't pinpoint any cause; instinct tells me these things just happen sometimes.

But once it became clear something was going on, the solution was easy. I finally turned on the spam filtering service to which my company subscribes, tightened down the threshold settings, and the spam slowed to a trickle. Postini to the rescue! (www.postini.com)

While relief from spam was easy in my case, if you find yourself dealing with lots of unwanted e-mail throughout your company, you might want to consider putting some heavy-duty protection right at the front door to your network. Trend Micro offers its Inter-Scan Gateway Security Appliance (IGSA) to provide such filtering with a minimum of setup and maintenance. And the cost is said to be less than a year's worth of managed e-mail filtering and protection.

The InterScan appliance also blocks viruses, spyware, and other threats, all at the gateway before they get into your network. It also has content filtering capabilities, as well as URL filtering and blocking. And because it is a separate appliance, it does not tie up other system resources, such as servers. Those added functions, above and beyond e-mail filtering, are particularly good to have because so much of your information exchange is done by way of the Internet.

Six appliances are available, all using 3 GHz Intel Pentium 4 CPUs and 1 GB of RAM. The primary differences are hard disk space (currently peaking at 80 GB), connectivity, and whether it uses a single processor or dual processors. The IGSA is designed to be used in an Ethernet environment and usually is placed between your firewall leading to the public network (Internet) and a router, hub, or switch leading to your protected local network. The three-stage installation is simple. The hardware part includes mounting the appliance in a standard 19-inch, four-post rack. It includes rubber feet if you want it to be free-standing.

Flexibility and convenience

Next comes the preconfiguration stage, which is as easy as setting up a modem or router for your home's PC. This primarily consists of setting up a password and a name for the IGSA. You can do both using the LCD display on the front panel of the appliance itself. But using the included DB9 cable to do the preconfiguration with a PC that has Hyperterminal for Windows (look under All Programs - Accessories - Communications) provides more flexibility and is more convenient.

Because the IGSA comes with a pre-hardened operating system and pre-installed Security Content Management software, protection begins almost immediately. However, there is a third stage, namely managing the IGSA. That is done using a Web browser and includes configuring basic settings (scan options, Network Outbreak Monitor, exception lists, component updates) and viewing and analyzing security content information (detailed summaries of clients on the protected network, security logs, and event logs).

While the initial settings provide a quick startup, the browser interface allows easy adjustments to react to changes in e-mail traffic trends. An additional service Trend Micro offers, Network Reputation Services, factors in additional, continuously updated information the company maintains on e-mail sources.

Nashville-based Rogers Group Inc., which operates quarries in five Southern states, uses an InterScan appliance. With roughly 1900 employees, the company's network serves 500 employee desktops and 200 customers at more than 70 sites.

After an easy installation, the company reports increased productivity across the board. You can read about its experience and learn more about the InterScan Gateway Security Appliance at www.trendmicro.com.