MailFrontier Inks Financing, Debuts Anti-Spam Software

New efforts to curtail spam continue at a fever pitch as another startup, MailFrontier, launches its multi-part answer to the problem — with a public beta of its new product and its first investment from venture backers.

Draper Fisher Jurvetson and New Enterprise Associates led the $5 million funding round, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based firm’s first. Draper Fisher Jurvetson’s Tim Draper and Stewart Alsop of NEA will join the firm’s board of directors, alongside co-founders Pavni Diwanji and Brian Wilson. The funds will go into development of additional products based on the company’s spam-blocking technology.

That technology powers the firm’s flagship consumer offering, Matador, a multi-faceted solution to the growing spam epidemic in the form of an add-on to Microsoft Outlook.

In addition to filtering based on third-party white- and blacklists, Matador also automatically develops a set of dynamically-generated rules for judging which senders are legitimate and which emails are wanted by recipients, based on their actions.

Additionally, the company uses a collaborative setup that enables users to identify spam by clicking on a button — which, in turn, blocks the email from reaching other users of the software.

Matador also includes sender verification features. Because spammers often fake return addresses, and since ISPs often terminate the accounts from which they sent their bulk mailings, the software checks that someone is indeed “live” on the other end of a mailing by emailing “suspect” mailers a question. If there’s no response — as would happen from a dead account — Matador blocks that email across its network.

“Existing solutions are typically built around a single feature such as content filtering or blacklisting offenders, and as a result, they fail to catch much spam,” said Diwanji, the firm’s chief executive officer. “We believe there is no single silver bullet — instead we plan to give our users a box of ammunition to fight junk email.”

The company is offering the beta version of Matador as a free download, though the company plans to release an enterprise-class gateway server product later this year.

The launch comes as several other firms are taking efforts to stamp out spam, which consumers decry for cluttering their in-boxes, and marketers blame for degrading the effectiveness of legitimate email offers.

San Francisco-based Cloudmark, for one, has set up a collaborative system called SpamNet, which, like Matador, is an Outlook add-on that blocks emails based on reports submitted by other users.

On Friday, anti-spam filter MailShell said it would begin filtering on the basis of TRUSTe and ePrivacy Group’s new Postiva “Trusted Sender” technology, which ensures that a marketing message has been sent with clear opt-out rules, among other privacy safeguards.

A new service launched last week by another startup, Habeas, deals both with commercial email and non-commercial mailings. In addition to serving as mail-filter criteria — certifying that mails bearing Habeas’ mark are legitimate — the firm also has embedded copyright and trademark protections into its verification seal. As a result, Habeas can sue or blacklist spammers who wrongfully appropriate its validation key.

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