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Battling the Spam Demons With MDaemon

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MDaemon: Complete mail server with emphasis on anti-spam and security features

The latest release of Alt-N’s mail server features a host of bug fixes and performance enhancements, but the real improvements are found in MDaemon’s souped-up Anti-Spam add-on module.

With e-mail comprising the majority of Internet traffic and spam the majority of e-mail, mail servers occupy the frontline between messages and users. Therefore, it is not surprising that the pressure to keep up with spam-fighting innovations is what drives the mail server market. To wit, Alt-N has updated its flagship product, MDaemon, to version 7.1 with a strong emphasis on spam fighting.

The MDaemon server itself is slightly more than 25 MB to download and consumes 40 MB installed. As with previous versions of MDaemon a variety of add-ons are available, including anti-virus support, a global directory, remote server administration, fax manager, and a groupware plug-in to enable use of Outlook with Microsoft Exchange Server. All of these add-ons require separate licenses from the base MDaemon server.

Installing MDaemon is extremely straightforward, which is a credit to Alt-N. Despite the complex scenarios that can be involved in initially setting up a mail server, Alt-N has simplified the choices to those most vital, and chooses intelligent defaults otherwise. The user interface launches in either “Easy” or “Advanced” mode. Easy mode features a streamlined and economical display but does not offer access to the Anti-Spam feature, which will probably be the major draw for this product. We expect most administrators will want to stick with the “Advanced” mode. Earlier releases of MDaemon lacked context-sensitive help throughout the administration interface #&151 this has been improved to some degree in version 7. Although some dialogs still lack this help (such as “content filtering”), many more do feature context-sensitive help.

Enhancements to the latest version of MDaemon include bug fixes and performance improvements, such as multithreading and multi-CPU support. But the bulk of updates are intended to fight the good fight: They strengthen security and keep the anti-spam arsenal sharp. With regard to security, the server now enforces strong passwords for users and lets them edit their password through the included WordClient Webmail interface.

MDaemon’s spam filter uses the well-regarded SpamAssassin (2.63) engine. Users upgrading from previous version of MDaemon can migrate their spam-learning databases to the new SpamAssassin format. The Bayesian filter allows for more fine-tuning than in past versions, giving more control to administrators in scoring spam. Automatic white listing can be applied to recipients of messages outside the domain, so their replies are not subject to possible false positives. Although convenient, this practice is not foolproof because many viruses and malicious spammers harvest address books for mail spoofing.

Fortunately, MDaemon can defend against mail spoofing via its support for SPF, the Sender Policy Framework. Increasingly popular with ISPs, SPF is a protocol for verifying message senders, something sorely lacking from the original SMTP (and responsible for widespread abuse by spammers and viruses). MDaemon can insert message headers indicating the results of an SPF query, adding a valuable piece of data to conclude whether a message is legitimate.

As before, MDaemon is priced according to flavor, Standard or Pro, and the number of supported users. The Pro version is stronger and a better value, as the Standard version omits many features, including the Bayesian Anti-Spam Filter and all security controls. Although the Pro version carries twice the price of the Standard version, this gap shrinks as the number of supported users increases.

Pros: Cutting-edge anti-spam controls; Slick and efficient GUI; Reasonable pricing.
Cons: Limited to Windows platform; Anti-virus support sold separately; Standard version too limited.

Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Original Review Date: 6/30/2004
Original Review Version: 7.1

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