Author Archives: kphelan

Tucows Email Service gets even more Reseller friendly

One of our primary goals with the Tucows Email Service is to be competitive with the best email services, and to be the best wholesale offering available for service providers.

brandcow.jpgJust like we do with all of our services, it comes to you as a “white label” service, with no Tucows branding anywhere. This past month we’ve been working on making the webmail interface much more extensible so you can brand it and make it even more like your own.

Here are some highlights of what we’re prepping for release:

  • Single sign-on – do your users log into a portal? Do you want them to automatically access the email service without logging in twice? You can do that now with the single sign on feature inside the Tucows Email Service. By passing a token, you can authenticate as that user, without having to know their password. That means seamless logins from your portal and an improved user experience for your customers.
  • We’re making the branding tool more flexible – if you put in a logo bigger than our “webmail” logo, it will automatically expand to the size of your logo. The front login page will pick up the logo from webmail, along with your background colour. You can also add your own support links, and customize the window title bar.
  • Support for ads – some of our resellers like to have ads in their webmail, or they want to totally overhaul the header and footer of the webmail. In order to meet everyone’s needs, we’re making it very flexible. The header and footer will support images, and iframes hosted on another server (including target urls). We’re also adding the ability to have an ad in the bottom left-hand corner of webmail.

There are a number of other changes that are outlined in the release notes, including usability enhancements, and more. Updated documentation is available as well.

The email team is excited to get this release out. The UI changes to webmail and single sign-on is already in our Test Environment, and the branding enhancements will be promoted to both Test and to Live on March 4th. Existing brands won’t be affected by the update.

Stay tuned – there’s more to come including more branding, more flexibility for service providers and more features for end users!

If you haven’t checked out our webmail yet, try it out! We can provision you a demo account — all you need to do is fill out a quick form here and we’ll set you up.

Spam Filtering That Just Works

Today, spam filtering is a must, not an option. By some estimates, as much as 90% of mail sent is spam. The filtering that’s included in the Tucows Email Service provides effective protection for users against spam and viruses.

Spam fighting cowStarting today resellers can provision what we call “filter only” accounts inside the Tucows Email Service. Cutting to the chase, the net result is that email is sent through our filtering system, spam is redirected to a quarantine, and only the legitimate mail is then directed on to our customer’s email server.

Last fall at ISPCON in San Jose, CA, I had the opportunity to give a presentation about our experiences running Tucows Email Service. I called it “Email Nightmares: Tales from the Edge” and in that talk I showed some of the pain points that email providers run into when managing messaging services. One of the most challenging aspects I called out was managing spam.

That’s all well and good, but some email providers aren’t ready, or don’t want to move to a fully-hosted email service right now. So we came up with an alternative that allows us to provide that same level of spam and virus protection, while allowing providers to continue to use their own email infrastructure.

The benefits are threefold:

  1. You’ll sleep better at night: you can focus on running your email servers, without having to worry about things like spam filters, or blacklists.
  2. Your servers will thank you: nine out of ten messages is spam, and we’re taking care of that before you have to. As a result, your server loads drop significantly.
  3. We’ve got your back: Tucows has a dedicated Abuse Team that is actively engaged in the battle against spam. We have experience managing abuse and we’ve forged strong relationships in the industry through organizations like the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG).

Our Tucows Email Service is built for ISPs and hosting companies. The goal with this filtering only option was to provide effective filtering for our customers that ‘just works’. Resellers have the option to provide a web-based spam quarantine where users can review email flagged as spam, and manage safe- and blocked sender lists.

Our Services website has more information including a screencast demonstrating the web-based spam quarantine.

Tucows Email Service Winter Release

The team’s efforts to enhance and improve the Tucows Email Service continue to accelerate as more and more customers make the move from our older platforms onto the new service. As that happens, we’re learning a lot about how Tucows Email Service handles the load in the real world (really well, as expected) and we’re also taking in feedback and comments from users, through resellers like you (thanks!).

As a result, we’re continually tuning hardware and software for even better performance, and the technical delivery team continues to work to make things like the webmail interface better and easier to use.

Tomorrow we’re rolling out what we call the “Email Winter Release” ‚Äì a bunch of enhancements and upgrades that make the service even better. A full list of those changes was sent out to customers on Tucows Email Service last week. If you want a sneak peek at how things are progressing, the upgrade has already been rolled into our Test environment. We’ve also released updated Tucows Email Service documentation that includes the latest changes and all the details you’ll need. A detailed summary of the changes can also be viewed in the release notes.

The enhancements encompass everything from minor user interface improvements inside webmail, to the creation of a new user account level within the MAC. Here’s a brief list of what’s changing Tuesday broken down into three main categories:

Reseller Tools:

  • Domain Aliases at the Company level are now available
  • Company Administrators are now able to suspend accounts (and shortly will be able to do so through the APP)
  • Mail Administrator account level has been created.

Webmail Enhancements:

  • Users are now able to sort on the Read/Unread column.
  • POP mail accounts (if added by the user) are checked automatically during webmail check.
  • Contacts can now be dragged into and out of groups.
  • Users can choose between plain text and HTML email composition.
  • The add contact group button in the contact area of the sidebar has been replaced by a pair of more intuitive icons.

WAP/Mobile Email Client:

  • We now offer a WAP client for email access via mobile phone.

wap_inbox.jpgOne of the neatest additions that comes along with this release is the WAP version of webmail. A recent survey by Webcredible, a UK-based web usability and accessibility consultancy, showed that 33% of mobile phone users said email was their most requested feature.

Our WAP-enabled webmail works on over 5,000 different phones (including the iPhone, although it has an IMAP email app that works great with Tucows Email). It lets user see their inbox and messages, send and receive mail, and even view contacts. All the information on how to access the WAP browser including how to set a CNAME to enable a custom URL (like wap.yourdomain.com) is in the email documentation.

The WAP browser is a standard feature of Tucows Email Service ‚Äì just like IMAP, POP and our AJAX webmail application. It’s available today in the Test environment, and will be live for all users tomorrow.

Tucows Email Filtering

Back in December we told you that the replacement for our Email Defense service was in QA, and that we were planning to go live with the new service in January. True to our word, I’m happy to report that the newly minted offering we’re calling “Tucows Email Filtering” will be live the week of January 29th.

We have a lot to share with you in the coming weeks, and Email Filtering is just one part. I’ll follow up this post soon with a full explanation of how it works, including the thinking behind some of the changes that we’ve made. You’ll quickly understand why we’re calling this “new” once you see it in action.

Re-imagining Our Email Defense Service

In February we made a decision to nuke the portal for our Email Defense Service and move to filtering only for the time being. Back then, we promised to build a new and improved service to replace it. We‚Äôre pretty close to being ready, (it‚Äôs in QA now). It’s expected that we‚Äôll go live with it in the first couple of weeks of January, after the holiday and our December code-freeze.

We took a look at Email Defense as it functioned back in February and decided to re-focus on simplicity. Making our services easier to use and administer is a mantra around here these days. The original “spam portal” had every bell and whistle imaginable, but just like lots of other web services and software packages, it was over-engineered. In reality, very few of those features were actually being used. Here’s what we found:

  • End Users only used the quarantine, and the blocked/sender lists
  • 95% of Resellers used the default settings
  • Fewer than 5% of Resellers branded the portal for their end users

Based on these findings and what we learned last winter, we concentrated on delivering the features people actually use.

We created a new spam quarantine that has two main functions:

  1. Reviewing spam and, if required, releasing email from the quarantine
  2. Managing safe and blocked sender lists

For Reseller management, the service has been integrated into the interfaces for the Tucows Email Service. At the domain and user level, Resellers can set up domain level blocked/safe sender lists, and even reject spam outright, if they choose. If Resellers choose to use the Tucows Email Service as well, filtering only accounts can be instantly upgraded to a full mailbox through the same interface with the check of a box.

We’ll provide more details about the specific changes and time frames in the new year.

In the meantime, here is a preview of what the spam quarantine will look like to your end users (click any of the images for a full sized view):

The list view shows all the messages caught in the Spam Quarantine:

spam-portal-list.jpg

In the message view, users will be able to see each spam message and take one of three different actions: tag the message as “Not Spam” (message is released from quarantine); add the sender to the Safe Sender list (messages from that sender will no longer be filtered) or add the sender to Block Sender list (messages from that sender will be automatically deleted):

spam-portal-message.jpg

Users can manage their Safe and Block Sender lists easily with the push of a button:

spam-portal-senderlists.jpg

Email Migrations Are Underway

 

Tucows Provides Worry-Free EmailIf you sell email from Tucows, you can expect to receive an email message  and/or a letter in the mail shortly about migrating to our new and improved email service. The message will direct you to a website to select an option for your migration. This site is chock full of information for you. It includes details about the features of our email service, documentation, information about how the migration is going to work and resources for you and your end-users.

We’ve been using the new email service here at Tucows for a number of months, and our team is confident it will exceed your expectations.

If you have any questions about email migrations, please contact your Account Manager or Support.

Introducing the next generation of the Tucows Email Service

[Updated May 24th, 2007: We've included a link to a larger version of the screencast.]

Today is a big day. We’re thrilled to announce the next evolution of our Tucows Email Service.

Building on our experience providing millions and millions of mailboxes to service providers around the globe, we’ve made a number of innovations in this latest version that have resulted in a truly outstanding hosted email service.

The first is our back-end technology that has been designed to provide rock-solid reliability, the ability to grow to meet demand from our customers and their end-users, and for easy integrations.  You can read about ‚Äúwhat‚Äôs under the hood‚Äù of our email service in an earlier post by Joey.

And of course, we’ve built our service from the ground up to meet the needs of service providers. It includes a web-based branding tool so a service provider can take our completely white-labeled service and make it his own. It also has additional tools for our Tier II Support team, meaning speedier resolutions, often at first call.

Our most significant development is in our new web mail interface (POP and IMAP are available too.) By working with Nitido, we have developed a web mail interface that competes with the leading free web mail providers.

I believe showing is better than telling, so we did a short screencast to introduce you to our new webmail. A small version appears below, and you can click here to see a larger version [QuickTime required].

You can read more about the new Tucows Email Service over on our site.

If you‚Äôre an existing customer, please log into the RRC or RWI  to gain access to our Test environment where you can evaluate the service. If you‚Äôre a new customer please contact our Sales team.

We believe service providers have a unique opportunity to offer our web mail to their customers. When matched with Tier I customer support it becomes a retention tool, not just an after-thought when bundling services.

We all know email is a highly-“sticky” service. Thinking about my own email usage, I have an ISP that I have used since university for my personal email (yes of course, they are a Tucows reseller ☺), I also have a handful of free web mail accounts that I use for personal email, subscriptions, and while traveling and away from my home and work computers.

Until the advent of next-generation AJAX-based web mail I always pop’d my email through Outlook or another local mail client. For me, regular use of web mail wasn’t an option. It was too clunky and slow and didn’t give me the features I needed to manage my personal information.

Of course that’s all changed. And I think Service Providers have an opportunity to use competitive web mail as a value-added service.

It seems like a no brainer to me. Service Providers are running email anyway, and by offering a competitive web mail experience, you can reduce your support costs by not having to explain POP or IMAP setups for every individual. You can just set them up, point them to the web and be there to support them if they have any issues.

The numbers show web mail use is on the rise. According to Charlene Li of Forrester, the number of users who use web mail once a week is up 4% from 27% to 31% in just one year. That’s a big jump, and I think we can attribute that to the increased use of the free web mail services.

As web hosting companies and ISPs look to retain customers, offering competitive value-added services like our web mail is a an opportunity to leverage leading-edge technology without making the upfront investment in development and ongoing investment in running an email system.

So, check it out, we're pretty excited, and we hope you like it!

Email Service Management and the big bad world of spam

Those who know Tucows probably know us as either a) a download site or
b) a domain name company. Both of these are of course true, however
providing email services to ISPs and hosting companies is now a big
part of our business and one of our focuses going forward. We provide both a
fully hosted Email Service, where we host webmail, SMTP, POP, IMAP,
filtering, etc. and an Email Defense Service where we do the spam and
virus filtering, and then forward the clean mail to our customer’s mail
server. We currently have millions of paid-for mailboxes. In an effort
to create more awareness about what we do and to generate some
discussion on the spam topic, I wanted to give you some insight into
what we’re doing and get your opinions/thoughts on what you’re seeing
and hearing from your customers.

Since September 2006, we’ve seen a 100% increase in email attacks and
spam hitting our email services. In August we had just over 1 billion
email connections to our hosted Email Service and Email Defense Service
systems, which was relatively ‘normal’. However, what has happened
since then is something that I don’t think we or anyone else has
accurately projected. Steadily increasing since September, November
connections topped out at around 2 billion. This certainly kept our
24X7 Abuse Team and our systems hopping. What we saw is certainly in
line with what everyone else providing email services has seen,
although few of the other big players publish their numbers. A sample
stat is that the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) reports that the
number of distinct spoof Web sites rose 52% in October 2006 to a
record-shattering 37,444, up from 24,565 a month earlier.

In order to try to keep up with the mounting attacks, we added more IP
based filtering at both the network and application layer to block
connections at the door, worked diligently to improve filtering rules/
techniques and spent $1 million on our email infrastructure.

Even after doing that though, we’re not yet totally happy with how well
we’re defending against attack. Although we are definitely blocking a
ton of spam and keeping many people happy, because of the significant
overall volume increase and new tactics employed by spammers with image
spam, many end users are seeing more spam in their inbox than they were
used to.

One question I have is what is an acceptable accuracy rate? Do end
users expect 96% catch-rates with zero false-positives OR do they base
their acceptance on how many spam get through (not the percentage that
are caught). The ‘industry’ generally only talks about catch-rates and
accuracy, but more and more I think that end users only really care
about how much spam gets through to their inbox and everyone has their
own personal threshold. The people I’ve talked to tell me that they
don’t care nor do they find it acceptable that the spammer has launched
their annual fall spam campaign and this will result in their mailbox
having 10 spam instead of the normal 5 spam. Sure, deleting another 5
messages isn’t a big deal to some, but at the end of the day most
people just want it to go away. For me personally, I have about 100
messages a day that are put in my spam quarantine, but if 5 messages
get through the filter, I’m not happy.

Something almost all end users don’t realize is that we‚Äôre blocking a
lot more than they see even if they have a spam quarantine. Even though
it looks to me as if filtering caught 100 messages today, in fact for
every 100 put into quarantine many more have been blocked right at the
gate because of IP filtering/connection management mechanisms. I can
tell you that on average about 52% of connections are blocked by the IP
filters/connection management techniques versus 21% of connections that
is blocked by the content filters. A good chunk of these blocked
connections won’t be directed at the mailboxes we host, but are rather
Directory Harvest Attacks and other attacks directed at the domain. The
fact that the service they use is doing much more than is visible –
again, they probably don’t care. However, the cost of filtering mail is
only increasing and the more we move toward blocking mail at the door
and not saving everything in a quarantine, the less visible spam
filtering value end users will have in what the service provider is
doing for them and that’s assuming that the end user even looks at
their quarantine today.

If it’s true that end users really only care about how much spam gets
through to their inbox, then we all have some work to do. If people
care, we should do a much better job of educating (and for Tucows it
will need to start with many of you, our partners).
We want to be able to demonstrate to those of you that only outsource your
filtering to Tucows that we are doing a hell of a lot of work to protect
your email infrastructure by giving you visibility into all the attacks
that we‚Äôre blocking. And after that, maybe you’ll think about outsourcing
the pain of it all (email and filtering).

So tell us your thoughts…
What is an acceptable accuracy rate?
Are your customers noticing this influx? How are you dealing?