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Securing an Exchange Server 2007 Environment : Protecting Against Spam (part 1) - Protecting Against Web Beaconing

10/24/2014 3:29:24 AM
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Unsolicited email messages are often referred to as spam. These usually unwanted and often offensive messages are utilized as cheap advertising for unscrupulous organizations. In the past several years, the increase in spam traffic has surpassed even the most liberal estimates, and many studies have found that spam traffic accounts for up to 85%–90% of the messaging traffic on the Internet today.

Spam does not just affect your patience and productivity; it affects companies, Internet service providers, and anyone else who is hosting messaging services. The battle against spam is just beginning, and legal battles are well under way against both known spammers and companies that host the messaging services. In some cases, employees are suing employers on grounds that the employer has not taken adequate steps to protect them from offensive materials.

Exchange Server 2007 Antispam Features

Spammers are becoming increasingly more creative and cunning, frequently changing their email addresses, domain names, content, and more to get past a company’s protective measures.

Microsoft has provided at least some basic form of antispam technologies in Exchange since version 5.5 and Outlook 98. For example, junk mail filters were provided to help identify messages that had either offensive material or other keywords indicating the message was spam. This form of spam prevention placed most, if not all, of the responsibility on the end user to block unwanted email messages.

Exchange Server 2007, when combined with Outlook 2007, provides several methods of reducing unwanted spam messages:

  • Increase protection through integrated security technologies

  • Improved email legitimacy assurance

  • Distribution lists restricted to authenticated users

  • Connection filtering

  • Content filtering

  • Frequent antispam updates

  • Spam quarantine

  • Recipient filtering

  • SenderID

  • Sender reputation

  • IP reputation service

  • Outlook junk email filter lists aggregation

Protecting Against Web Beaconing

A common and very popular format for email messages is Hypertext Markup Language, or HTML. This format is so popular because of the rich content that can be presented, including graphics, images, font formatting, and more. However, HTML-based messages can also present security problems and annoyances because of the ability to hide various codes and images within the message.

One such security problem is called web beaconing. Web beaconing is a term used to describe the method of retrieving valid email addresses and information on whether a recipient has opened a message. Advertisers, spammers, and the like utilize web beaconing to help them become more profitable and improve audience targeting. For instance, when an unsuspecting user opens an email message that contains a web beacon, the user’s email address and possibly other information is sent to the solicitor, notifying them that they a) have reached a valid recipient and b) have reached a recipient who is willing to open their message before deleting it. The user is oblivious that their personal information has been given.

Outlook 2003 and 2007 can be used to block web beacons and, consequently, prevent the user’s email address from ending up in the wrong hands. By default, if Outlook suspects that the content of a message could be used as a web beacon, it presents a pop-up window warning users that links to images, multimedia, or other external content have been blocked to help protect their privacy. The text content of the email message is viewable by the user, and the user is then presented with an option to unblock the content. This enables the user to make a conscious decision of whether to display all the contents of the message.

This default setting is recommended because it is an excellent way to protect end users from unsolicited emails; however, it is possible to disable this option. To change the default settings in Outlook 2003, do the following:

1.
In Outlook 2003, select Tools, Options.

2.
Click the Security tab and then click Change Automatic Download Settings.

3.
In the Automatic Picture Download Settings window, choose whether to download pictures or other content automatically. Outlook 2003 can also be customized to automatically download content from safe lists or from websites listed in the trusted Microsoft Internet Explorer security zones.

To change the default settings for automatic downloading of content in Outlook 2007, do the following:

1.
Select Tools, Trust Center.

2.
Click the Automatic Download tab, as shown in Figure 1. Select the desired settings from the available options. By default, all options are selected.

Figure 1. Configuring automatic picture downloads.

Note

If Automatic Picture Download is turned off, messages from or to email addresses or domain names on the Safe Senders and Safe Recipients lists are treated as exceptions and the blocked content is downloaded. Safe Senders and Safe Recipients lists are discussed in more depth later in this chapter.

 
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- Securing an Exchange Server 2007 Environment : Securing Outlook 2007 (part 2) - Encrypting Communications Between Outlook and Exchange , Blocking Attachments
- Securing an Exchange Server 2007 Environment : Securing Outlook 2007 (part 1) - Outlook Anywhere
- Securing an Exchange Server 2007 Environment : Securing Your Windows Environment (part 3) - Keeping Up with Security Patches and Updates
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- Securing an Exchange Server 2007 Environment : Securing Your Windows Environment (part 1) - Windows Server 2003 Security Improvements , Windows Vista Security Improvements
- Securing an Exchange Server 2007 Environment : Client-Level Secured Messaging - Exchange Server 2007 Client-Level Security Enhancements
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- Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Requirements : Software Requirements (part 2) - Windows Server Roles and Features
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