Mbox Webmail back to normal, company says

Phantom spam attack downs Mbox Web mail

A glitch in Mbox.com.au's spam filtering setup brought the company's subscriber-pays Webmail systems to its knees for weeks, but the company insists the problem is now fixed.

In a "perfect storm" scenario, the spam filter glitch hit the company's systems on May 31, just as it was upgrading other components of its network.

The Barracuda spam filter was reporting massive volumes of spam that, according to the company's operations manager Nick Power, did not exist.

"We had problems with Barracuda," Mbox.com.au's operations manager, Nick Power, told ZDNet Australia. "It's been a combination of things for us, it's been an interesting time."

The service became cripplingly slow, frustrating users intermittently over a period of weeks.

Despite US-based Barracuda representatives offering to upgrade the system for Mbox, the company decided to move to the open source software SpamAssassin, while shifting mail storage from a local disk to a network share setup.

That process didn't run as smoothly as Power wanted it to, but he says the problems have now been permanently solved. "We'll be increasing mail quotas as a result, as a sweetener," Power said.

The company has also upgraded to a new Webmail application. It has gone live, and the company is in the process of migrating users to it.

Mbox provides users with unified messaging accounts. For a subscription fee, users are assigned a fax and voicemail number that can be accessed from normal phone lines. Faxes and voicemails then appear in the user's inbox as mp3 or PDF attachments. According to Power, only 20 percent of Mbox users actively use the Webmail component of the company's service.

Byron Bay-based freelance Web designer David Snelgrove is one user in that 20 percent, and he's less than impressed. After taking an extended hiatus from working, Snelgrove decided to put down the surfboard and knuckle down on a hard-won contract. "You don't use it for three months, and then all of a sudden you need to use it one weekend and it doesn't work," he said. "It just happened to be very inconvenient."

He says he'll likely let his subscription lapse due to the issues.

During the heady days of the dotcom boom, Mbox offered free Webmail accounts. When the company switched to a paid service model, it lost a lot of users, but not their inbound spam. Of the hundreds of thousands of messages that hit Mbox servers every week, Power estimates 90 percent of them are spam, mostly aimed at closed accounts.

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