Executive Conversation: Why Cloudmark Took the Path Less Traveled
by Melisa LaBancz-Bleasdale - Monday, 14 June 2004.
Spam, spim, spoofs…will it ever end? Cloudmark believes that spam and all of its incarnations will indeed disappear through a combination of carefully harvested human feedback and ground-breaking tools. Having taken an unorthodox approach to building their company, in two short years Cloudmark has provided innovative ways to wage war against spam for over one million users.

Karl Jacob, Chief Executive Officer for Cloudmark shares his insight into the birth and growth of the company, and the dedicated path they chose to follow.

"We took a tough approach in that we chose not to follow anyone else’s lead. We decided to build and design brand new technology on both the consumer and enterprise side of the market. We got a lot of heat when we first launched SpamNet, and it was the classic case of disbelief. I’m happy to say that the dissention went away as our product led the industry in both accuracy and the lack of false positives."

Cloudmark’s SpamNet was recently named "Best Buy" in PC Magazine’s June 2004 Desktop Anti-Spam Roundup, and was also the only product to receive five stars for accuracy in the recent February, PC Magazine spam filtering roundup.

It is these types of accolades that have silenced disbelievers. It’s apparent that the industry in general didn’t doubt real, working technology could be developed, but rather, could it actually put a dent in spam, the everlasting parasite of the email world? We’re a jaded bunch, and evidence clearly shows that the more sleek the technology designed to stop spam, the more sophisticated spam becomes. It’s a race that so far, no one seems to be winning.

The road to success hasn’t been without its struggles, and as Jacob explained, it was the commitment and vision of Cloudmark’s two founders, Vipul Ved Prakash, Chief Scientist, and Jordan Ritter, Chief Technology Officer, that kept the flame alive during many dark and doubtful hours.

"I remember some moments where we had long, late night discussions surrounding whether we should go a certain direction because everyone else was doing it. Vipul and Jordan really convinced me that the approach that they had dreamed up was the right way to go."

Cloudmark held true to their belief that things such as "challenge response", were not going to be long term solutions that would survive the onslaught of spammers. Eventually, their notable predictions proved to be true.

"Vipul early on highlighted the fact that challenge response, being based on email addresses that were unable to be authenticated, would eventually be overcome by the spammers. Sure enough that happened. ‘SoBig’ and ‘My Doom’ and many others are great examples of how that system has been subverted," says Jacob.

Cloudmark also stands firm on their general dislike of the ominous White Lists and Black Lists, believing that it employs a sledgehammer approach to killing a fly. Their opinion is that by trying to get one spammer with an IP address block, a company may end up blocking entire sites, and in some cases, entire companies from communicating with them. It’s easy to see why this may lead to bigger issues than those a company initially set out to conquer. Due to mistakes in the listing process, inadvertent blocking, and inevitable damage to reputations, several lawsuits are currently pending against ISP’s and service providers. The repercussions of false positives aren’t always pleasant and the spammers themselves are fighting back with both eloquence and vehemence. In our Capitalist society, making money isn’t a bad thing, and though one’s choice of career may be annoying to 99.9 percent of the public, it is in most cases, not illegal. In an ironic twist of fate, preventing the legitimate spammers from doing business where they’re allowed, isn’t legal.


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