An Anti-Spam Startup’s First Box

Austin, Texas, played a big role in the Internet boom. In 1998, Forbes noted, “In or near Austin are $15 billion Dell Computer, the MCC research consortium, IBM’s fast-growing Tivoli Systems division, and a University of Texas campus that is home to more than 2,000 budding computer scientists.”

Fast-forward to 2002, and Austin is a noted center of development in the areas of Web services, application service providers (ASPs), and Internet services. Local venture capital firm Austin Ventures maintains a large investment portfolio that includes a few names any ISP will recognize, such as BroadJump and the aforementioned Tivoli.

But the economy is not friendly to most startups. The venture capital well is dry and the IPO path to cash is closed. Anyone starting a company now is in it for the long term. Meet Dewey Coffman and the anti-spam startup Net-Sieve. Coffman funded his latest startup with the proceeds from the sale of to Allegiance Telecom’s webhosting subsidiary,

Coffman says it’s a good time to start a business if you’ve got the cash. “These are lean times for Austin,” he says. “I’ve been here for sixteen years and I know some sharp people. Many of them are available now. Also, it’s a good time to be looking for real estate. You can sign a short lease and if you’re a really small company and can move you can get a good deal.”

He started putting the pieces together in October of 2001, recruiting people he respected and trusted and putting together the code for the Net-Sieve product. “Sieve was a good name,” says Coffman, “because it’s all about straining out the stuff you don’t want.”

After examining a variety of hardware and OS platforms, Coffman selected a Dell box and RedHat Linux. For management, the product uses a Web GUI interface that’s designed to look like the GUI a home user would encounter when setting up a router.

The product gathers heuristics (the elements that make up a spam email) and sends those spam definitions back to Net-Sieve. The product also uses blacklists.

Click to view larger imageOne distinguishing feature noted by Coffman is the product’s ability to block individual images on an otherwise innocent website. If, for example, a clothing website (or, for that matter, a sports website) has a swimsuit page, only the questionable images would be blocked (as shown at right) and replaced with the Net-Sieve logo.

Of course, Net-Sieve has other basic anti-spam and anti-virus features too. It:

  • Bounces, redirects, or tags incoming email as SPAM, Pornography, or Virus

  • Blocks pornographic Web pages based on image analysis and text analysis
  • Bounces, redirects, or tags questionable ethical phrases within an email
  • Searches for company-defined sensitive code words, project names, and proprietary information in both inbound and outbound email traffic
  • Enables the use of blacklists
  • Allows users to build their own whitelists.

Pricing and Availability

The company’s basic product, the Net-Sieve 250, is currently available at a flat price of $19,995. It can handle up to 250 users.

The Net-Sieve LE, for enterprises with 500 or more users, should be released this month.

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