The making of a Ninja

Today, we officially announced our new Ninja Messaging Security product for Microsoft Exchange. It’s a pretty significant milestone for us, as we’ve been working on this product for over two years, with a considerable financial investment for a company of our size.

In fact, it’s one of the most impressive products I’ve been involved in during my 20–odd year career in the high tech arena. I don’t say that lightly, either.

The story of Ninja started after we shipped our spam filter for Microsoft Exchange, iHateSpam Server. It did well in the market, but we really felt that the whole messaging security space could be looked at differently. After all, what’s the most critical protection point for security in an enterprise? Email.

To give you some background, the email security space is dominated by the major vendors, like Symantec, McAfee and Trend. Then, there are the players like Sybari (now owned by Microsoft) and GFI, and then the hosted security solutions like Postini.

However, none of the existing solutions work perfectly for managing email security in an organization. None of them present a truly comprehensive solution. Most don’t provide a layered approach, where you have multiple scanning engines and security checks that an email has to go through before being passed on to the user. Some are downright cumbersome to use. And most are quite expensive.

Let’s further dissect the key problems with email security:

1. Lack of comprehensive solutions: You may buy an antivirus program from one of the big security vendors to stop email-borne viruses. But will it also do a good job of stopping spam and malicious attachments, provide content filtering and content auditing, as well as handle your other needs like corporate-wide disclaimers? No: You will have to buy multiple solutions for a hodge-podge approach.

Why is this bad? Well, one key issue is security. With multiple products running to handle your email security needs, you have multiple patch points. Another key issue is learning. You have to keep up on multiple different products, with their own methods of operations, their own quirks. Reporting isn’t pulled together for all modules. And then there’s cost. It just costs more to have dedicated solutions for each problem you’re trying to solve.

2. Lack of policy-based solutions. All security solutions should be policy based, but most aren’t. This simply means that you can establish one set of security policies for one group or person, and another set of policies for a different group. For example, let’s say that you want some people in the company to be allowed certain attachments, but others, no attachments at all. You would simply create a custom policy for each group of people.

3. Reliance on one vendor. Relying on one antivirus company to stop viruses through email is asking for trouble. In fact, I would call it dangerous. eAs we’ve seen on this blog in the past, antivirus companies are in constant catch-up, trying to keep up with the latest outbreaks. If they’re a few hours late with one virus, it could mean absolute havoc for your company. So one AV filter for email might work for the home user, but to an organization, it’s an incredibly dangerous approach. It’s like relying on only one lock on your front door, in tenement housing in a bad part of Manhattan. You’re going to get robbed.

4. Touch-and-go quality. Quality is all over the place in messaging security. Let’s look at attachments as one example. Did you know that the most common way that people bypass attachment filters is to rename the file extension? So you could have someone sending in an .exe file into an organization, but by simply renaming the file to a .txt extension, it blows by most attachment filters.

Or, take content filtering. With most solutions, you can’t filter content inside the organization. You can only filter content that is going in or out of the company. So Billy Bob who sends around endless joke emails inside the company, wasting time and creating potential security risks with stupid links, is actually completely ignored by most content filters.

In answering these problems with email security, our solution was to do the following:

1. Create a framework. We created a framework in which best-of-breed security plug-ins could be inserted. Ninja is basically a large security interface to Microsoft Exchange, and the plug-ins do the work. We ship three plug-ins with the product: Spam, antivirus and attachment filtering. More, such as content filtering and auditing, will be added in the coming months.

2. Make it policy based. Ninja is policy based from the ground up (with the one exception of antivirus, where you must filter all email with one policy). You can create endless policies to specifically tailor the application to your own organization’s needs.

3. Create plug-ins with a layered approach. Both Ninja’s antivirus and antispam plug-ins use multiple scanning engines. For antivirus, we use BitDefender and Authentium. For spam, we include Cloudmark’s antispam engine along with our own home-brewed engine. These are all included in the cost of the product.

4. Improve the quality of security. Our attachment filter actually looks inside many types of attachments, so you can’t fool it by renaming the extension, and it can look at all attachments — inbound, outbound or internally within the company. And so on. Everything in Ninja is just world-class quality.

5. Make it free or insanely cheap. One of Ninja’s hottest features, the intelligent attachment filtering, is free. You can download it today, and have the best attachment filtering in the business at absolutely no cost to your organization. And the rest of Ninja is very aggressively priced.

Ok, so now I’ve said my piece. If you’re an Exchange administrator, take a look, let me know what you think.

More corporate propaganda here.

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