A taste of the cloud with Symantec.cloud Email Security

Recently, I had a chance to demo three of Symantec’s cloud services: Symantec.cloud Email Security, Email Encryption, and Endpoint Security . Since there do not seem to be too many detailed reviews of Symantec’s cloud services floating around on the Net, I figured I relay my experiences with the service.

Today I will be talking about Symantec.cloud Email Security.

Symantec.cloud Email Security

Host based anti-malware is all well and good, but stopping malware from ever entering network is even better. That is where the Email Security portion of the Symantec’s cloud services comes in. The service aims to provide anti-spam, anti-virus, image control, and content control of email through a single cloud-based service managed using a web-based client portal.

Setup was fairly easy, it involved filing out some paperwork with information about the network and submitting it to Symantec to aid in the configuration of the client portal. After about two weeks, we were provided with an email with further instructions of how to configure the mail servers. The service requires directing the mail server to send all mail to Symantec through a TLS-encrypted connection, adjusting MX records to point to Symantec’s servers, and optionally locking down SMTP ports to allow traffic to and from only Symantec servers. Performing all three of these tasks has the added benefit of decreasing the attack surface of the network by locking down SMTP and providing additional confidentiality of email data as it flows between the company’s network and Symantec’s mail servers (I’ll talk more about this when I review the Encryption portion of the service). Symantec support replied quickly to any problems we ran into during the setup.

Once everything was in working order, we were provided access to the web-based portal. (click on images and select expand to full size)

The summary window provides graphical representations and statistics showing total incoming and outgoing email, emails containing viruses, spam, blocked images, and blocked content. It is pretty typical of the summary windows you encounter in any type of enterprise level security software, nothing too special. Although it is neat to watch the amount of spam rise and fall depending on the day of the week (it seems even spammers enjoy taking the weekend off.)

The anti-virus piece of the service utilizes Symantec’s vast database of virus signatures to detect and remove viruses from email. The added benefit of this is better detection of zero-day threats since you are not sitting waiting for the DATs to be released and pushed to your local gateway anti-malware solution. There is not much configuration to this portion of the service.

The anti-spam portion of the service uses typical anti-spam lists, as well as heuristics and a signature system. From our testing, the lists catch close to 50% of the spam using the lists and the heuristics and signature system each catching about 25%. We were really impressed with the effectiveness of the filter. Almost no spam made it through and we had a false positive only about 1 out of every 10,000 emails.

The configuration options are pretty typical of any anti-spam solution. Email can be sent to a quarantine hosted by Symantec, sent along through with an appended header, blocked, or sent to a bulk email address. The quarantine feature was pretty nice, as each user can be setup with access to his or her quarantined emails to restore any false positives. Another available option is to give a single user control over the quarantines of multiple users. The only downfall to this option is control of the quarantines cannot be shared among users. Hopefully that is a features Symantec will add in the future.

The content control feature of the service is really intense as can you can see from the screenshot below. I won’t go too in depth into it because I didn’t spend too much time playing with it. Suffice to say it is pretty awesome. Want to know if your users are sending personally identifiable information out over email without encrypting it? That can be done, even so far as scanning Microsoft Office and OCR’d PDFs. Suspect a certain users of sending company info out of the network without permission? Setup a rule to copy his or her email with specific attachment types to another email address for further review.

The system uses templates to detect patterns and the templates can be created by the user or with help by Symantec . We had Symantec help us create a template to detect bank account numbers and tested it by sending some Excel documents through the system with fictitious account numbers. The system caught the emails with the pattern and notified us of the email address used to send the email. These caught emails can be let through, tagged, logged, deleted, redirected to the administrator, or copied to the administrator. I can see this coming in handy when trying to prevent a data breach of confidential information or during an internal investigation of an employee’s email activities.

I didn’t play with the image control feature of the service. It looks to be as intense as the content control from the little that I looked at.

If you are in need of a customized report from the system, you can request Symantec to create one for you. I didn’t end up utilizing this feature, so I can’t say what the response time from support is.

Overall, I was really impressed with the service. The spam filter was amazing and the anti-virus seemed solid. I can think of a thousand usages for the content control and can’t wait to play with it further. Cost isn’t too bad, about $4,000 / year for 50 users. If you are looking to free up some server resources, consolidate software packages, and possibly increase your network security, Symantec’s cloud Email Security service is something to look at.