VBSpam Email Security Comparative Review - June 2021

Ionuţ Răileanu & Adrian Luca

Virus Bulletin

Copyright © 2021 Virus Bulletin


Introduction

In this test – which forms part of Virus Bulletin’s continuously running security product test suite – eight full email security solutions, one custom configured solution1, one open-source solution and one blocklist were assembled on the test bench to measure their performance against various streams of wanted, unwanted and malicious emails.

It is encouraging that we continue to see good performance by the security solutions on up-to-date spam campaigns. However, as we highlight in this report, the malware and phishing landscape is more complex and presents a greater challenge for the products.

For some additional background to this report, the table and map below show the geographical distribution (based on sender IP address) of the spam emails seen in the test. (Note: these statistics are relevant only to the spam samples we received during the test period.)

# Sender’s IP country Percentage of spam
1 China 21.51%
2 Japan 18.88%
3 United States 9.21%
4 Russian Federation 4.73%
5 France 4.50%
6 Brazil 3.53%
7 India 3.48%
8 Vietnam 3.19%
9 Hong Kong 2.02%
10 Poland 1.79%

Top 10 countries from which spam was sent.

map-June21.png

Geographical distribution of spam based on sender IP address. 

 

Malware and phishing

In this section we briefly highlight the malware and phishing samples that proved to be the most difficult for the tested solutions to block. Without the intention for this analysis to be exhaustive, we list here the particularities of some test samples that our research proved to be linked to existing threat actors.

 

Office downloader

Attachment SHA256: 6166dd44bc6d71b976b6e62c33d8ce16687738809753f8c3f7dd81cd170be371

Name: PREP LIST.docx

This email isn’t part of a campaign. It caught our attention because four products failed to correctly block it. The URL from the macro file attached to the docx document, hxxp://bit[.]do/fQNsR, which redirects to hxxp://cloudstroageofofficedocumenttransfer[.]mangospot[.]net/gt/v[.]dot, was reported to be related to different malware samples.

Office-downloader.pngEmail with attachment related to different malware samples.

 

Loki

Attachment SHA256: 90fae7829904a5b7ee85cd953124bac939546445e5397cc33e36c0978eaf6923

Name: PO_210513-LG01.lzh

This email is part of a malware campaign targeting Korean‑speaking users. The attached lzh file contains an exe file that is used to infect the victim’s machine. We observed it active on 13 May.

Loki.pngPart of a malware campaign targeting Korean-speaking users.

 

Quakbot infected attachments

Attachment SHA256: 7275dd8635d1ad64f258069bd74768e77d7b5dbbec1a92fb684ee861d9b3304a

Name: Documents_1556816880_1960631962.xlsb

This malware campaign was active from 13 to 16 May. One of its peculiarities is that the emails were sent from different geo‑located IP addresses. It is also the largest malware campaign we observed in this test period. The majority of the emails missed by the tested solutions were from 14 and 15 May.

Quakbot-infected.pngEmail with Quakbot infected attachments.

 

Quakbot phishing

Domains: musicaparalapaz[.]org, huntercapital[.]co[.]uk, bimnation[.]in

This phishing campaign evaded the filters of most of the tested solutions. We first spotted it on 12 May and it remained active throughout the rest of the test. One of its features is a URL leading to a zip archive named after the username of the email recipient. The domains from these emails have been reported to be linked to Qbot.

Quakbot-phishing.png

 Quakbot phishing email.

Non-English phishing

In this test we saw an increase in the number of non‑English phishing emails that failed to be blocked by the tested security solutions. Usually the email subjects related to postal services or banking, and in many cases the links used URL shortening services.

Danish-phishing.pngDanish phishing email.

French-phishing.pngFrench phishing email.

Spanish-phishing.pngSpanish phishing email.

Greek-phishing.pngGreek phishing email.

 

Results

The majority of the tested solutions blocked more than 99% of the spam samples. We highlight the performance of Libraesva, which managed a 100% catch rate on the malware samples, and Cleanmail Domain Gateway, which missed only two phishing emails.

Three of the participating full solutions – Cleanmail Domain Gateway, NoSpamProxy and ZEROSPAM – achieved a VBSpam award, as did the custom configured solution, Spamhaus DQS, while a further five full solutions achieved a VBSpam+ award: Axway, Bitdefender, Cyren eXpurgate, Fortinet and Libraesva.

 

Axway MailGate 5.6

SC rate: 99.66%
FP rate: 0.00%
Final score: 99.66
Malware catch rate: 94.97%
Phishing catch rate: 98.45%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 99.76%
Abusix SC rate: 99.62%
Newsletters FP rate: 0.0%
Speed:

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

vbspam-plus-0621.jpg

 

Bitdefender Security for Mail Servers 3.1.7

SC rate: 99.86%
FP rate: 0.00%
Final score: 99.86
Malware catch rate: 99.53%
Phishing catch rate: 98.65%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 100.00%
Abusix SC rate: 99.81%
Newsletters FP rate: 0.0%
Speed:

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

vbspam-plus-0621.jpg

 

Cleanmail Domain Gateway

SC rate: 99.98%
FP rate: 0.03%
Final score: 99.85
Malware catch rate: 99.87%
Phishing catch rate: 99.87%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 99.97%
Abusix SC rate: 99.98%
Newsletters FP rate: 0.0%
Speed:

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

vbspam-verified-0621.jpg

 

Cyren eXpurgate

SC rate: 99.60%
FP rate: 0.00%
Final score: 99.60
Malware catch rate: 97.05%
Phishing catch rate: 95.68%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 99.71%
Abusix SC rate: 99.56%
Newsletters FP rate: 0.0%
Speed:

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

vbspam-plus-0621.jpg

 

Fortinet FortiMail

SC rate: 99.61%
FP rate: 0.00%
Final score: 99.61
Malware catch rate: 98.39%
Phishing catch rate: 96.71%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 99.51%
Abusix SC rate: 99.65%
Newsletters FP rate: 0.0%
Speed:

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

vbspam-plus-0621.jpg

 

Libraesva ESG v.4.7

SC rate: 99.78%
FP rate: 0.00%
Final score: 99.76
Malware catch rate: 100.00%
Phishing catch rate: 98.26%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 99.74%
Abusix SC rate: 99.80%
Newsletters FP rate: 0.9%
Speed:

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

vbspam-plus-0621.jpg

 

NoSpamProxy

SC rate: 99.19%
FP rate: 0.00%
Final score: 99.19
Malware catch rate: 97.99%
Phishing catch rate: 97.94%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 99.74%
Abusix SC rate: 98.99%
Newsletters FP rate: 0.0%
Speed:

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

vbspam-verified-0621.jpg

 

Rspamd

SC rate: 92.39%
FP rate: 1.19%
Final score: 86.40
Malware catch rate: 86.78%
Phishing catch rate: 84.79%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 96.01%
Abusix SC rate: 91.11%
Newsletters FP rate: 2.7%
Speed:

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

 

Spamhaus Data Query Service

SC rate: 99.00%
FP rate: 0.00%
Final score: 99.00
Malware catch rate: 98.19%
Phishing catch rate: 95.62%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 99.09%
Abusix SC rate: 98.97%
Newsletters FP rate: 0.0%
Speed:

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

vbspam-verified-0621.jpg

 

ZEROSPAM

SC rate: 98.93%
FP rate: 0.08%
Final score: 98.50
Malware catch rate: 98.59%
Phishing catch rate: 97.74%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 99.19%
Abusix SC rate: 98.84%
Newsletters FP rate: 1.8%
Speed:

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

vbspam-verified-0621.jpg

 

Abusix Mail Intelligence

SC rate: 98.31%
FP rate: 0.15%
Final score: 97.50
Malware catch rate: 81.61%
Phishing catch rate: 97.94%
Project Honey Pot SC rate: 98.14%
Abusix SC rate: 98.37%
Newsletters FP rate: 1.8%

 

Results tables

  True negatives False positives FP rate False negatives True positives SC rate Final score VBSpam
Axway 3953 0 0.00% 378.4 110335.8 99.66% 99.66 vbantispam-plus.gif
Bitdefender 3953 0 0.00% 157.6 110556.6 99.86% 99.86 vbantispam-plus.gif
Cleanmail Domain Gateway 3952 1 0.03% 25.2 110689 99.98% 99.85 vbantispam-pass.gif
Cyren eXpurgate 3953 0 0.00% 441.8 110272.4 99.60% 99.60 vbantispam-plus.gif
FortiMail 3953 0 0.00% 428.2 110286 99.61% 99.61 vbantispam-plus.gif
Libraesva 3953 0 0.00% 241.6 110472.6 99.78% 99.76 vbantispam-plus.gif
NoSpamProxy 3953 0 0.00% 900.2 109814 99.19% 99.19 vbantispam-pass.gif
Rspamd 3906 47 1.19% 8427.6 102286.6 92.39% 86.40  
Spamhaus DQS 3953 0 0.00% 1108.6 109605.6 99.00% 99.00 vbantispam-pass.gif
ZEROSPAM 3950 3 0.08% 1184.8 109521.4 98.93% 98.50 vbantispam-pass.gif
Abusix Mail Intelligence* 3947 6 0.15% 1875.6 108838.6 98.31% 97.50 N/A

*This product is a partial solution and its 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 False negatives SC rate False negatives SC rate
Axway 0 0.0% 75 94.97% 24 98.45% 70.2 99.76% 308.2 99.62% 0.77
Bitdefender 0 0.0% 7 99.53% 21 98.65% 0 100.00% 157.6 99.81% 0.31
Cleanmail Domain Gateway 0 0.0% 2 99.87% 2 99.87% 7.4 99.97% 17.8 99.98% 0.15
Cyren eXpurgate 0 0.0% 44 97.05% 67 95.68% 83.2 99.71% 358.6 99.56% 0.69
FortiMail 0 0.0% 24 98.39% 51 96.71% 142.2 99.51% 286 99.65% 0.54
Libraesva 1 0.9% 0 100.00% 27 98.26% 76.6 99.74% 165 99.80% 0.46
NoSpamProxy 0 0.0% 30 97.99% 32 97.94% 75.4 99.74% 824.8 98.99% 1.06
Rspamd 3 2.7% 197 86.78% 236 84.79% 1154.8 96.01% 7272.8 91.11% 4.02
Spamhaus DQS 0 0.0% 27 98.19% 68 95.62% 264.6 99.09% 844 98.97% 1.28
ZEROSPAM 2 1.8% 21 98.59% 35 97.74% 234 99.19% 950.8 98.84% 1.36
Abusix Mail Intelligence* 2 1.8% 274 81.61% 32 97.94% 539.2 98.14% 1336.4 98.37% 1.92

*This product is a partial solution and its performance should not be compared with that of other products. None of the queries to the IP blocklists included any information on the attachments; hence its 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
Cleanmail Domain Gateway speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg
Cyren eXpurgate 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
Libraesva speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg
NoSpamProxy speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg speed-colour-blobs-GREEN.jpg
Rspamd 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
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 and details.)

 

Products ranked by final score
Bitdefender 99.86
Cleanmail Domain Gateway 99.85
Libraesva 99.76
Axway 99.66
FortiMail 99.61
Cyren eXpurgate 99.60
NoSpamProxy 99.19
Spamhaus DQS 99.00
ZEROSPAM 98.50
Rspamd 86.40

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

 

Hosted solutions Anti-malware IPv6 DKIM SPF DMARC Multiple MX-records Multiple locations
Cleanmail Domain Gateway Cleanmail    
Cyren eXpurgate Avira SAVAPI  
NoSpamProxy Heimdall   √     
ZEROSPAM ClamAV  

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

 

Local solutions Anti-malware IPv6 DKIM SPF DMARC Interface
CLI GUI Web GUI API
Axway Kaspersky, McAfee        
Bitdefender Bitdefender        
FortiMail Fortinet  
Libraesva ClamAV; others optional        
Rspamd None              
Spamhaus DQS Optional        

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

 

VBSpam-quadrant-June2021.jpg (Please refer to the text for full product names and details.)

 

Appendix: set-up, methodology and email corpora

The full VBSpam test methodology can be found at https://www.virusbulletin.com/testing/vbspam/vbspam-methodology/vbspam-methodology-ver20.

The test ran for 16 days, from 12am on 8 May to 12am on 24 May 2021 (GMT).

The test corpus consisted of 114,939 emails. 110,875 of these were spam, 29,003 of which were provided by Project Honey Pot, with the remaining 81,872 spam emails provided by Abusix. There were 3,953 legitimate emails (‘ham’) and 111 newsletters, a category that includes various kinds of commercial and non-commercial opt-in mailings.

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

Moreover, 1,490 emails from the spam corpus were found to contain a malicious attachment while 1,552 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 command2.

For those products running in our lab, we all 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 positive 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

1 Spamhaus DQS is a custom solution built on top of the SpamAssassin open-source anti-spam platform.

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

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