Network Associates (NAI) has released version 6 of its content security product, McAfee GroupShield, to coincide with next week’s launch of Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. The product uses the latest hooks in Microsoft’s groupware product, to add anti-spam measures and content filtering to anti-virus protection.

“You don’t need separate products for spam and anti-virus,” said Tim Smithson, product marketing manager for GroupShield. “They are combined behind a single user interface.” The product combines GroupShield with Deersoft’s Spam Killer product, which Network Associates acquired in January, and uses an extension to Exchange to do this. Microsoft provides an interface that allows users to scan the Exchange server’s files for viruses. Version 2.5 of this interface, the virus scanning application programming interface (VS API 2.5), has been extended in Exchange 2003 to allow sifting for spam.

The integration of anti-spam software is an option, said Smithson, and NAI customers who move to Exchange 2003 do not have to upgrade immediately. The current version, GroupShield 5.2.1, works with both Exchange versions. It won’t work on Exchange 5.5, he said, but Microsoft is expected to discontinue this version in 2004.

GroupShield 6 also includes advanced content filtering capability, said Smithson: “A lot of customers are asking for tools to prevent abuse, such as emails containing racist, sexist or profane content.” The product makes a lexical content scan of email and attachments, including 280 different types of attachment, such as Acrobat and Word files.

Content filtering can also be used as a swift block to known viruses, such as “I love you”, and will check for true filetypes so that users cannot re-name “.exe” files as “.txt” in order to smuggle them past.

The content filtering is optional too. Smithson believes it has moved on from the first generation of such packages, which made it difficult to do business with customers in “Scunthorpe” for instance. “Content filtering is only as good as the rules created for it,” he said. The product comes with a set of more subtle pre-defined rules. “It is down to the organiser which one they would like to apply,” said Smithson. Mail is quarantined rather than deleted, so users can negotiate individual rules with their IT manager.

Virus scanning on both servers and desktops is necessary, said Smithson (with an eye on the McAfee desktop virus scanner), since client machines are very often laptops that are carried outside the company and used to connect to web-based email. “You should scan it all as it comes through the gateway, and clean the stores on the Exchange server, as well as making a desktop virus scan,” he said. “You also need a centralised console such as McAfee ePolicy Orchestrator that can update the entire organisation, using the same files automatically.”

This content filtering may be more useful to UK IT managers than some other products, since it is developed in the UK, suggested Smithson. A clearer understanding of UK profanities may help in the filtering job, though IT managers may feel frustrated if they are not able to say that their servers are “shagged”.