SpamCop Rescued from Edge

According to news reports, IronPort Systems has acquired SpamCop, a volunteer-run spam-fighting company that runs a popular blacklist, for $1 million.

SpamCop helps people report spam by cutting and pasting messages into a form on the site. The reporting feature is ad-supported, or users can opt to pay SpamCop then forwards them to the spammer’s ISP along with a complaint. It also provides subscription-based Web email accounts with advanced spam filtering options and software and services for ISPs. It maintains a blacklist of known spammers’ IP addresses that it makes available to ISPs, so that they can block their emails.

San Bruno, Calif.-based IronPort Systems provides enterprise-grade email infrastructure hardware and services including a message gateway incorporating Brightmail anti-spam technology. On October 27, it closed a $29 million series C round of funding, bringing its total cash on hand to $50 million. Well… make that $49 million, as of Monday.

IronPort executives did not return calls, and SpamCop founder Julian Haight said he was keeping quiet until the official announcement. But SpamCop’s front page alerts visitors to “please stay tuned for an announcement from SpamCop on Monday the 24th.”

IronPort operates its own free email reputation service, SenderBase, which operates similarly to SpamCop.

“I think it’s great that SpamCop has found a home,” said Gleb Budman, director of product management for messaging security company MailFrontier. He said that this and other blacklisting services have been repeated victims of denial-of-service attacks that can overwhelm their meager resources. IronPort might benefit by getting access to SpamCop’s extensive collection of spam, which can be a valuable asset for an anti-spam company.

At the same time, Budman said that MailFrontier had found blacklists to be an ineffective way of reducing spam. “Effectiveness rates aren’t that great on blacklists,” he said, “but false positive rates are high, because you blacklist an entire server.”

“There have been a number of problems with legitimate email providers who have had their mail blocked by SpamCop for a variety of reasons,” said Ray Everett Church, counsel for Citizens Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE). Another blacklist provider, Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS), was sued by email marketing vendor Yesmail, now owned by InfoUSA , for blocking what it said was email sent to an opt-in list. “One would hope that IronPort has looked at the potential for future legal liability.”

Church said the acquisition will raise questions from both sides of the email marketing issue. Consumer activists don’t care if SpamCop occasionally blocks legitimate email, he said. “Marketers can look forward to a well-funded and indestructible SpamCop that will continue past practices and make their lives miserable.”

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