Elron debuts context-based e-mail filter

Elron Software Inc. today introduced a new tool that will help agencies protect sensitive e-mail messages from getting into the wrong hands and will filter out messages that contain offensive language by analyzing their context.

Message Inspector, which is the latest addition to the company's CommandView family of products, helps organizations manage employee e-mail more efficiently, according to the company. It uses two software algorithms to check the context of the message so that it can filter and, if necessary, block offensive or sensitive communications made through e-mail, news groups or FTP sites.

"Other products offer keyword and stream matching only," said Kelly Haggerty, product manager at Elron. "Those are the fastest filtering methods but the least accurate. Our technology goes several steps further by allowing us to interpret the meaning" of a word based on the context in which it is used.

Message Inspector allows an agency to set up customized rules, policies and filtering profiles based on what information it deems offensive or sensitive, Haggerty said. The product can filter out junk e-mail, spam and other unwanted messages, such as one with the telltale heading, "Here's the information you requested..." which accompanied the recent "Melissa" macro virus.

"Messages can be blocked, returned to the sender or redirected," Haggerty said. "In the case of spam, we can tag a message as spam so users know it might be offensive to open. We're concerned about outbound messages but also that our employees aren't offended" by incoming messages, he said.

Message Inspector also comes with a World Wide Web user interface that enables remote administration from any standard Microsoft Corp. Windows-based browser, a Java-based console for cross-platform administration and management, a Web-enabled alert messaging center and automatic e-mail alerts.Fred Siedenburg, information systems security manager at the Naval Air Facility in El Centro, Calif., which trains Navy, Air Force and foreign aviators, is beta testing Message Inspector.

"We have strict usage policies on government-furnished systems, including the use of the Internet and e-mail. We felt we needed to enforce the policies. To enforce [them], we need to monitor individual users' activities," he said. "We are also...concerned about classified information infiltrating the e-mail systems." This type of product is essential to the facility, Siedenburg added, because e-mail has become central to its work.

In general, there is a growing market for this type of product, according to Sara Radicati, president of The Radicati Group Inc., a market research firm based in Palo Alto, Calif. "I could easily see some applications in government institutions or corporations that want to make sure e-mail has been sanitized or isn't offensive. Obviously screening for pornography and racial insults" is important, she said.

However, the product does raise privacy issues. "As an individual, I tend to fall on the side of freedom," Radicati said. "I don't like my organization to legislate what type of e-mail I receive. It's a very difficult fine line. The intent is good; there is a need for it, but it's difficult."

Message Inspector will be added to the General Services Administration schedule.

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