TurnTide

Stopping spammers at their own servers

TurnTide Conshohocken, Pa.

Location:Conshohocken, Pa.

Company name: Founders felt the name TurnTide captured the essence of their business, which is all about using network technology to turn the tide against spammers.

How did the company start? TurnTide CTO David Brussin developed the anti-spam router technology in late 2000 (and filed for a patent for it in February 2001), while working at e-mail technology incubator ePrivacy Group on ways to stop the spam deluge. He began exploring commercialization options last fall, and in January teamed with Lucinda Duncalfe Holt, now TurnTide CEO, to found the company.

Funding: $1 million in a first funding round that closed in March.

CEO: Holt has 15 years of experience in management positions at start-ups and global Fortune 500 companies, including American Express and SEI Investments. Most recently, Holt was CEO at Destiny WebSolutions, a software and services provider to large financial institutions.

Product: The TurnTide E-Series anti-spam router for enterprises, SP-Series for service providers.

Stopping spammers at their own serversStopping spam is the goal of many software and appliance vendors, but none has taken the approach of TurnTide's anti-spam router. By using routing technology to stop spam at the network layer, TurnTide wants to make it technologically and economically infeasible for spammers to target corporate e-mail servers.

The idea that a network device could stop spam came to Brussin when he began thinking of unsolicited bulk e-mail as a theft of corporate resources. With their steady onslaught, spammers steal an individual's time, server processing cycles, storage capacity and network bandwidth. Stopping spam, Brussin reasoned, would mean making it impossible for the thieves to get at those resources. He realized that could be accomplished using TCP traffic shaping, a basic engineering technique for inserting quality-of-service and error-handling mechanisms into a network.

With TCP traffic shaping, the TurnTide anti-spam router limits access to bandwidth and therefore the speed at which a spammer can move traffic. Spammers have no choice but to comply because the control is placed on them by the routing protocol. "Instead of presenting spammers with one big traffic fire hose, we give them a straw," Brussin says.

Spammers are economically crippled, needing a week to send the amount of e-mail that was previously sent in an hour, Brussin says. "What we end up doing is driving spammers away in both the technical and economic senses and allowing legitimate e-mail to come through," he says.

TurnTide is targeting the anti-spam router at organizations with more than 2,000 e-mail accounts, with one router capable of handling hundreds of thousands of users. Installation is virtually transparent - it deploys without requiring any network changes, Brussin says.

But the basic device, Holt notes, is really just a conduit, like a cable box. TurnTide uses its own network to learn about spammers' behavior and then delivers routing updates to customer boxes. Customers pay an annual subscription fee, depending on router configuration. The fee varies widely from its starting price of $20,000, taking into account factors such as how distributed the e-mail infrastructure is, number of mailboxes and mail volume, Holt says.

The TurnTide router has shifted the odds against spammers at more than a dozen user organizations, including Drexel University and Edward Jones, and ISPs, Holt says. Next up: The company is developing an outbound-based anti-spam device and a higher-end router for ISPs that carry huge mail loads.

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