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Are Email Firewalls Worth Your Company’s Interest?

Whether or not you run a company, it is more than likely that everyone has come into contact with an email firewall. These firewalls essentially provide companies and users with built-in virus and spam fighting applications. These differ from the normal line of firewalls, however, since they are specially designed to defend users and companies from attacks through email.

Is It Really Necessary to have an Email Firewall?
Most home users will recognize the email firewall through popular free email service providers on the internet, like Hotmail. Services such as these have handy features, such as the ability to automatically scan attachments for harmful files. Email firewalls are also responsible for keeping “junk mail” out of a user’s inbox. Different rules can also be applied to ensure that spam isn’t an annoyance or security threat.

Since most hardware email firewalls will run well over a few thousand dollars each, the real question is - does your company need one? The answer lies within the company itself. If the company provides an email service to its workers or customers, the answer is inevitably yes. Massive amounts of spam can easily overload a server, and bring it crashing to the ground. Viruses and spyware that may come in attachments may infect computers on the company network - and waste company resources. While not every company has a budget that will allow for an email firewall, there are alternatives that are sometimes almost as good.

For instance, many software firewalls can be configured or even be designed to work as an email firewall. The problem with this is that it will take system resources to run the firewall - unlike the dedicated hardware email firewall. In terms of efficiency, this is a poor alternative. However, putting the software email firewall on a single dedicated computer will greatly enhance speed on the network, as compared to running it off a server or workstation.

Some companies have also taken advantage of their demilitarized zone to help fight spam and malware. Applying certain rules and permissions will effectively setup a perimeter to guard against spam. However, this setup will usually slow down network performance, which is why the larger companies who can afford a demilitarized zone often opt for the hardware email firewall instead.

Every Rose Has it’s Thorn
Not everything about the email firewall can be considered beneficial. For instance, false positives can hurt productivity. No email firewall on the market today can guarantee a 100% success rate in filtering spam email from trusted email. This means that “good” email will eventually be filtered out as spam, although not usually very often.

There are ways around this flaw, but they can be time consuming. For instance - instead of having an automatic filter on incoming email, the administrator can act as the sole decider of what is allowed and what isn’t. This comes in the form of IP filtering and domain blocking. IP filtering will block all emails coming from a certain IP address. Domain blocking can block an entire website domain from sending anyone on the network a single email. This form of protection is extremely efficient, but also very time consuming. This form of protection also acts passively - since the administrator can only ban IP addresses and domains that have already sent the network spam.

Despite these downfalls, an email firewall is mandatory for larger networks and companies. Spammers can user directory harvesting to add hundreds of email addresses to a spam database. Without an email firewall, this kind of spam attack can easily overload servers and cause network failures. Obtaining an email firewall is obviously inevitable for growing or established companies.

Closing Comments
The email firewall should be considered a vital defense layer for companies who offer email services to customers or employees. While there are many different setups that can be explored, the most efficient yet expensive is the hardware version of the email firewall. It’s likely that the few thousand dollars required for such a piece of hardware isn’t in the budget - so setting up a software email firewall can often be a good temporary solution.

In 2004, Bill Gates told the media that spam would be a thing of the past, by the year 2006. With the year 2006 come and gone, we can only say that this claim has yet to come true. Don’t get your hopes up just yet, and instead investigate email firewall options until the day does come that spam, viruses, and malware are finally kept out of our inboxes.

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