VBSpam Email Security Comparative Review June 2019

Martijn Grooten & Ionuţ Răileanu

Virus Bulletin

Copyright © 2019 Virus Bulletin


 

Introduction

In this test – which forms part of Virus Bulletin's continuously running security product test suite – 12 full email security solutions and three blacklists of various kinds were assembled on the test bench to measure their performance against various streams of wanted, unwanted and malicious emails.

The news in these test reports tends to be good: email security products are an important first line of defence against the many email-borne threats and, especially against the bulk of opportunistic threats, they perform really well. The news in this report is no exception, with all 12 full solutions obtaining a VBSpam award and four of them performing well enough to earn a VBSpam+ award.

However, it is important to look beyond the spam catch rates: block rates of malware and phishing emails, though still high, were significantly lower than the block rates of ordinary spam emails.

 

Malware and phishing

As in the previous test, in this test we look at the performance of products against 'malware' and 'phishing' emails, defined as emails with a malicious attachment and those with a malicious link, respectively. It should be noted that the distinction between these categories isn't always clear, for example when an email has a PDF attachment that includes a link to a phishing website (we classify this as 'phishing', arguing that the attachment itself isn't malicious).

An example of such an email, with the attachment masquerading as an invoice that required 'email verification' in order to view it, was among those phishing emails missed by at least half the products we tested; other 'difficult' emails included phishes for Apple IDs and email credentials, while a fake but very believable UPS email linked to a site that downloaded the Adwind RAT.

Block rates of emails with a malicious attachment were, as usual, a little better, but there were still some that were missed by many products, with emails carrying the infamous Emotet trojan found to be the most difficult to block – something we have observed consistently.

 

Results

Spam catch rates were once again high, with many products blocking 99.9% or more of the spam, but block rates of malware and phishing were significantly lower. All participating full solutions achieved a VBSpam award, with six products – Bitdefender, ESET, IBM, Safemail and both Kaspersky products – performing well enough to achieve a VBSpam+ award.

ESET and Libra Esva were the only products that didn't miss a single email with a malicious attachment; they were also the only products not to miss a single phishing email.

New to the test bench on this occasion is Spamhaus rsync. Like the Spamhaus Data Query Service this product is a quick and easy configuration of Apache SpamAssassin, the popular open-source spam filter. This configuration uses the data from Spamhaus's public mirrors that have a one‑minute delay between updates, while the DQS is updated in real time and has some extra features. We noticed the rsync‑based product missing almost twice as many spam emails as the DQS.

These products replace the individual Spamhaus lists that have been tested by Virus Bulletin in the past. Virus Bulletin has no control over how these products have been set up.

 

Axway MailGate 5.6

SC rate: 99.81%
FP rate: 0.02%
Final score: 99.68
Malware catch rate: 94.82%
Phishing catch rate: 95.13%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 99.73%
Abusix SC rate: 99.85%
Newsletters FP rate: 1.0%
Speed:

10% GREEN 50% GREEN 95% GREEN 98% GREEN

vbspam-verified-0619.jpg

 

Bitdefender Security for Mail Servers 3.1.7

SC rate: 99.97%
FP rate: 0.00%
Final score: 99.97
Malware catch rate: 99.39%
Phishing catch rate: 98.13%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 99.99%
Abusix SC rate: 99.96%
Newsletters FP rate: 0.0%
Speed:

10% GREEN 50% GREEN 95% GREEN 98% GREEN

vbspam-plus-0619.jpg

 

ESET Mail Security for Microsoft Exchange Server

SC rate: 99.997%
FP rate: 0.00%
Final score: 99.98
Malware catch rate: 100.00%
Phishing catch rate: 100.00%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 100.00%
Abusix SC rate: 100.00%
Newsletters FP rate: 0.5%
Speed:

10% GREEN 50% GREEN 95% GREEN 98% GREEN

vbspam-plus-0619.jpg

 

Fortinet FortiMail

SC rate: 99.97%
FP rate: 0.04%
Final score: 99.74
Malware catch rate: 99.70%
Phishing catch rate: 97.94%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 100.00%
Abusix SC rate: 99.97%
Newsletters FP rate: 1.0%
Speed:

10% GREEN 50% GREEN 95% GREEN 98% GREEN

vbspam-verified-0619.jpg

 

IBM Lotus Protector for Mail Security

SC rate: 99.92%
FP rate: 0.00%
Final score: 99.92
Malware catch rate: 95.43%
Phishing catch rate: 96.07%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 99.97%
Abusix SC rate: 99.91%
Newsletters FP rate: 0.0%
Speed:

10% GREEN 50% GREEN 95% GREEN 98% GREEN

vbspam-plus-0619.jpg

 

Kaspersky for Exchange

SC rate: 99.97%
FP rate: 0.00%
Final score: 99.97
Malware catch rate: 96.95%
Phishing catch rate: 97.75%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 99.97%
Abusix SC rate: 99.97%
Newsletters FP rate: 0.0%
Speed:

10% GREEN 50% GREEN 95% GREEN 98% GREEN

vbspam-plus-0619.jpg

 

Kaspersky Linux Mail Security 8.0

SC rate: 99.97%
FP rate: 0.00%
Final score: 99.97
Malware catch rate: 97.26%
Phishing catch rate: 97.38%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 99.97%
Abusix SC rate: 99.97%
Newsletters FP rate: 0.0%
Speed:

10% GREEN 50% GREEN 95% GREEN 98% GREEN

vbspam-plus-0619.jpg

 

Libra Esva 4.4.0.0

SC rate: 99.98%
FP rate: 0.02%
Final score: 99.85
Malware catch rate: 100.00%
Phishing catch rate: 100.00%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 99.98%
Abusix SC rate: 99.98%
Newsletters FP rate: 1.0%
Speed:

10% GREEN 50% GREEN 95% GREEN 98% speed-colour-blobs-YELLOW.jpg

vbspam-verified-0619.jpg

 

Safemail

SC rate: 99.94%
FP rate: 0.00%
Final score: 99.94
Malware catch rate: 99.70%
Phishing catch rate: 96.63%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 99.96%
Abusix SC rate: 99.93%
Newsletters FP rate: 0.0%
Speed:

10% GREEN 50% GREEN 95% GREEN 98% GREEN

vbspam-plus-0619.jpg

 

Spamhaus Data Query Service

SC rate: 99.21%
FP rate: 0.00%
Final score: 99.21
Malware catch rate: 81.71%
Phishing catch rate: 65.54%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 99.52%
Abusix SC rate: 99.09%
Newsletters FP rate: 0.0%
Speed:

10% GREEN 50% GREEN 95% GREEN 98% GREEN

vbspam-verified-0619.jpg

 

Spamhaus rsync

SC rate: 98.62%
FP rate: 0.00%
Final score: 98.62
Malware catch rate: 80.49%
Phishing catch rate: 62.17%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 99.32%
Abusix SC rate: 98.37%
Newsletters FP rate: 0.0%
Speed:

10% GREEN 50% GREEN 95% GREEN 98% GREEN

vbspam-verified-0619.jpg

 

ZEROSPAM

SC rate: 99.90%
FP rate: 0.06%
Final score: 99.48
Malware catch rate: 99.39%
Phishing catch rate: 92.32%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 99.98%
Abusix SC rate: 99.87%
Newsletters FP rate: 3.6%
Speed:

10% GREEN 50% GREEN 95% GREEN 98% GREEN

vbspam-verified-0619.jpg

 

IBM X-Force Combined

SC rate: 98.44%
FP rate: 0.06%
Final score: 98.15
Malware catch rate: 79.88%
Phishing catch rate: 68.54%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 98.97%
Abusix SC rate: 98.25%
Newsletters FP rate: 0.0%

 

IBM X-Force IP

SC rate: 95.96%
FP rate: 0.06%
Final score: 95.67
Malware catch rate: 78.35%
Phishing catch rate: 61.99%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 93.05%
Abusix SC rate: 97.04%
Newsletters FP rate: 0.0%

 

IBM X-Force URL

SC rate: 61.89%
FP rate: 0.00%
Final score: 61.89
Malware catch rate: 4.27%
Phishing catch rate: 28.09%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 90.60%
Abusix SC rate: 51.33%
Newsletters FP rate: 0.0%

 

Results tables

  True negatives False positives FP rate False negatives True positives SC rate Final score VBSpam
Axway 5182 1 0.02% 274.6 147822.4 99.81% 99.68 VBSpam
Bitdefender 5183 0 0.00% 40.8 148056.2 99.97% 99.97 VBSpam+
ESET 5183 0 0.00% 3.8 148093.2 99.997% 99.98 VBSpam+
FortiMail 5181 2 0.04% 37.4 148059.6 99.97% 99.74 VBSpam
IBM 5183 0 0.00% 114 147983 99.92% 99.92 VBSpam+
Kaspersky for Exchange 5183 0 0.00% 40.4 148056.6 99.97% 99.97 VBSpam+
Kaspersky LMS 5183 0 0.00% 41.4 148055.6 99.97% 99.97 VBSpam+
Libra Esva 5182 1 0.02% 24.8 148072.2 99.98% 99.85 VBSpam
Safemail 5183 0 0.00% 93 148004 99.94% 99.94 VBSpam+
Spamhaus DQS 5183 0 0.00% 1174.2  146922.8  99.21% 99.21  VBSpam
Spamhaus rsync  5183 0 0.00% 2039.2  146057.8  98.62% 98.62  VBSpam
ZEROSPAM  5180 3 0.06%  143.2  147953.8  99.90%  99.48 VBSpam
IBM X-Force Combined*  5180 3 0.06% 2306.4  145790.6  98.44%  98.15 N/A
IBM X-Force IP*  5180 3 0.06% 5977.6  142119.4  95.96%  95.67 N/A
IBM X-Force URL*  5183 0 0.00% 56438.6  91658.4  61.89% 61.89 N/A

 *The IBM X-Force products are partial solutions and their performance should not be compared with that of other products.
(Please refer to the text for full product names and details.)

 


 
Newsletters  Malware  Phishing  Project Honey Pot  Abusix  STDev† 
False positives FP rate
False negatives SC rate
False negatives SC rate
Fales negatives SC rate
False negatives SC rate
Axway  2 1.0%  17 94.82%  26 95.13%  107.6 99.73%  167 99.85%  0.46
Bitdefender 0 0.0% 2 99.39%  10 98.13%  2 99.99%  38.8  99.96%  0.18
ESET  1 0.5% 0 100.00%  0 100.00%  0 100.00%  3.8  99.996 0.09
FortiMail  2 1.0% 1 99.70%  11 97.94%  0 100.00% 37.4  99.97% 0.11 
IBM  0 0.0% 15 95.43%  21 96.07%  13.2 99.97%  100.8 99.91%  0.41
Kaspersky for Exchange  0 0.0% 10  96.95%  12 97.75%  13 99.97%  27.4 99.97%  0.25
Kaspersky LMS 0 0.0% 9 97.26%  14 97.38%  13 99.97%  28.4 99.97%  0.25
Libra Esva  2 1.0% 0 100.00% 0 100.00%  6 99.985%  18.8 99.98%  0.12
Safemail 0 0.0% 1 99.70% 18 96.63% 17.2 99.96% 75.8 99.93% 0.4
Spamhaus DQS  0 0.0% 60 81.71%  184 65.54%  190 99.52%  984.2  99.09%  2.72
Spamhaus rsync  0 0.0% 64 80.49%  202 62.17%  271 99.32%  1768.2  98.37%  2.98
ZEROSPAM  7 3.6%  2 99.39%  41 92.32%  7.2 99.98%  136 99.87%  0.63
IBM X-Force Combined*  0 0.0% 66 79.88%  168 68.54%  411.4  98.97%  1895  98.25% 1.83
IBM X-Force IP*  0 0.0% 71 78.35%  203 61.99%  2768.4  93.05%  3209.2  97.04%  3.91
IBM X-Force URL*  0 0.0% 314 4.27%  384 28.09%  3742.6  90.60% 52696  51.33% 20.63

 *The IBM X-Force products are partial solutions and their performance should not be compared with that of other products. None of the queries to the IP blacklists included any information on the attachments; hence their performance on the malware corpus is added purely for information.
† The standard deviation of a product is calculated using the set of its hourly spam catch rates.
(Please refer to the text for full product names and details.)

  Speed
10% 50% 95% 98%
Axway speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg
Bitdefender speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg
ESET speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg
FortiMail speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg
IBM speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg
Kaspersky for Exchange speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg
Kaspersky LMS speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg
Libra Esva speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-YELLOW.jpg
Safemail speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg
Spamhaus DQS speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg
Spamhaus rsync speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg
ZEROSPAM speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg
speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg 0-30 seconds speed-colour-blobs-YELLOW.jpg 30 seconds to two minutes speed-colour-blobs-ORANGE.jpg two minutes to 10 minutes speed-colour-blobs-RED.jpg more than 10 minutes


(Please refer to the text for full product names.)

 

Products ranked by final score
ESET 99.98
Kaspersky for Exchange 99.97
Bitdefender 99.97
Kaspersky LMS 99.97
Safemail 99.94
IBM 99.92
Libra Esva 99.85
FortiMail 99.74
Axway 99.68
ZEROSPAM 99.48
Spamhaus DQS 99.21
Spamhaus rsync 98.62

 (Please refer to the text for full product names.)

 

Hosted solutions Anti-malware IPv6 DKIM SPF DMARC Multiple MX-records Multiple locations
Safemail ClamAV; proprietary
ZEROSPAM ClamAV      

(Please refer to the text for full product names.)

 

Local solutions Anti-malware IPv6 DKIM SPF DMARC Interface
CLI GUI Web GUI API
Axway Kaspersky, McAfee        
Bitdefender Bitdefender        
ESET ESET Threatsense    
FortiMail Fortinet  
IBM Sophos; IBM Remote Malware Detection          
Kaspersky for Exchange Kaspersky Lab        
Kaspersky LMS Kaspersky Lab      
Libra Esva ClamAV; others optional        
Spamhaus DQS Optional        
Spamhaus rsync Optional        

(Please refer to the text for full product names.)

 

VBSpam-quadrant-June2019.jpg

 

Appendix: set-up, methodology and email corpora

The full VBSpam test methodology can be found at https://www.virusbulletin.com/testing/vbspam/vbspam-methodology/.

The test ran for 16 days, from 4pm on 14 May to 12am on 30 May 2019.1

The test corpus consisted of 153,680 emails. 148,301 of these were spam, 39,865 of which were provided by Project Honey Pot, with the remaining 108,436 spam emails provided by Abusix. There were 5,183 legitimate emails ('ham') and 196 newsletters, a category that includes various kinds of commercial and non-commercial opt-in mailings.

255 emails in the spam corpus were considered 'unwanted' (see the June 2018 report2) and were included with a weight of 0.2; this explains the non-integer numbers in some of the tables.

Moreover, 328 emails from the spam corpus were found to contain a malicious attachment while 534 contained a link to a phishing or malware site; though we report separate performance metrics on these corpora, it should be noted that these emails were also counted as part of the spam corpus.

Emails were sent to the products in real time and in parallel. Though products received the email from a fixed IP address, all products had been set up to read the original sender's IP address as well as the EHLO/HELO domain sent during the SMTP transaction, either from the email headers or through an optional XCLIENT SMTP command3.

For those products running in our lab, we ran them as virtual machines on a VMware ESXi cluster. As different products have different hardware requirements – not to mention those running on their own hardware, or those running in the cloud – there is little point comparing the memory, processing power or hardware the products were provided with; we followed the developers' requirements and note that the amount of email we receive is representative of that received by a small organization.

Although we stress that different customers have different needs and priorities, and thus different preferences when it comes to the ideal ratio of false positives to false negatives, we created a one-dimensional ‘final score’ to compare products. This is defined as the spam catch (SC) rate minus five times the weighted false positive (WFP) rate. The WFP rate is defined as the false positive rate of the ham and newsletter corpora taken together, with emails from the latter corpus having a weight of 0.2:

WFP rate = (#false positives + 0.2 * min(#newsletter false positives , 0.2 * #newsletters)) / (#ham + 0.2 * #newsletters)

while in the spam catch rate (SC), emails considered ‘unwanted’ (see above) are included with a weight of 0.2.

The final score is then defined as:

Final score = SC - (5 x WFP)

In addition, for each product, we measure how long it takes to deliver emails from the ham corpus (excluding false positives) and, after ordering these emails by this time, we colour-code the emails at the 10th, 50th, 95th and 98th percentiles:

speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg (green) = up to 30 seconds
YELLOW (yellow) = 30 seconds to two minutes
speed-colour-blobs-ORANGE.jpg (orange) = two to ten minutes
speed-colour-blobs-RED.jpg (red) = more than ten minutes

 

Products earn VBSpam certification if the value of the final score is at least 98 and the ‘delivery speed colours’ at 10 and 50 per cent are green or yellow and that at 95 per cent is green, yellow or orange.

Meanwhile, products that combine a spam catch rate of 99.5% or higher with a lack of false positives, no more than 2.5% false positives among the newsletters and ‘delivery speed colours’ of green at 10 and 50 per cent and green or yellow at 95 and 98 per cent earn a VBSpam+ award.

 

Footnotes

Due to a technical glitch, the test was started a few days later than originally planned and ran for a few extra days.

2 https://www.virusbulletin.com/virusbulletin/2018/06/vbspam-comparative-review.

3 http://www.postfix.org/XCLIENT_README.html.

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