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Easing security woes

Faced with a tight IT budget, a Singapore company has turned to open-source software to deal with junk e-mail, while maintaining centralized control over IT security.

For most small and medium-sized businesses, dealing with spam and viruses is an uphill task, especially with limited in-house IT manpower. Faced with a tight IT budget, a Singapore company has turned to open-source software to deal with junk e-mail, while maintaining centralized control over IT security.

ESS Software is a typical SMB that can only afford to hire one IT staff to manage its systems. The company, with offices in Singapore, China and Japan, helps software vendors, such as Borland, to localize their products.

"Most SMBs have budget constraints," said Yong Inn Nam, its managing director. "Our systems are pretty bare, and we do not have the money for big firewall systems."

Although minimizing security risks is important to the company, Yong said the security product that they implement "has to be low-cost solution and not a multimillion dollar one".

ESS Software has over 40 employees and about 150 machines comprising desktops and servers located in its three offices.

Case study: ESS Software

  • More than 40 employees
  • Has about 150 machines comprising desktops and servers
  • Offices in Singapore, China and Japan
Problems faced
  • The company has a tight IT budget, with only one person who handles IT administration. Employees were receiving increasing volumes of spam and viruses that hampered their productivity. The administrator had to manually install the anti-virus software on employee desktops and conduct maintenance checks.
Solution
  • Open-source software like Linux and Sendmail for cost savings
  • HP Safe SC for centralized virus and spam control

Nine months ago, the company installed Hewlett-Packard's Safe SC, an all-in-one Linux-based security product that packs antivirus, spam filters, firewall and intrusion detection in a single HP ProLiant DL380 server.

Teo Kee Chin, director for engineering services, who is the only person who manages the company’s IT infrastructure, said that open-source technologies are quite mature now. He added that the Linux-based Safe SC is a natural upgrade path for the company. "It's the same type of technology that we've been currently using."

In particular, the Linux-based HP product complements the company's existing open-source systems. "We are already making use of open-source technologies like the Linux operating system (at the backend), Sendmail for our e-mail servers, as well as Linux-based firewall," Teo said.

But more importantly, Safe SC incorporates features that the company did not have in the past, like anti-spam and antivirus at the network gateway--this adds another layer of security, he added.

Prior to this, the only security defense the company had was Norton's antivirus software installed on employee desktops. Teo had to manually install the antivirus software on employee desktops and conduct maintenance checks, while reminding workers not to introduce third-party software that may contain viruses.

"When we were getting a lot of spam and e-mail (messages) with viruses attached to them, we were thinking of either centrally controlling the incoming e-mail, or to just install antivirus on the desktops. We decided to do both," Teo said.

Managing spam has been a big problem for Yong. He used to get between 35 and 40 junk e-mail messages every 12 hours. "If I have to spend two minutes on each e-mail, that's a significant amount of time I spend a day (to clear the spam).

"The centralized control offered by Safe SC allows us to reassure our clients that we are stopping viruses at the gateway before they propagate to the developer machines," Yong added.

Well-versed in many open-source technologies, Teo did not have problems setting up Safe SC, which comes with a graphical user interface for easy configuration. Plus, with the server running on Linux, he only needs to reboot the system when there is a power failure.

"I have nothing against Microsoft, but usually it takes us a while to reboot their systems," he added.

ESS paid US$2,500 for a 50-user license. The cost, which Yong describes as affordable, includes hardware, software updates and remote telephone support for one year.