Data void: False Positives

by Russell on March 10, 2010

There’s a good post at Gartner pointing out the lack of data reported by vendors or customers regarding the false positive rates for anti-spam solutions.  

Although Gartner customers almost never complain about false positive rates, I wonder if false positives are under estimated. End users rarely complain about false positives, but they are very vocal reporting Spam in their inbox. Box Sentry ( recently did a tests in a number of organizations and found the false positive rate in some organizations using popular anti-spam tools was as high as 13% of legitimate emails. The largest proportion of false positives in their study was legitimate person-to-person traffic.  While it could be that these organizations have over-tuned their systems to block more Spam at the expense of quarantining more legit email, the reality was the email administrators had no idea they had such a high false positive rate because they never checked.  Have you? 

Going further, it would be very valuable to estimate the cost of false positives.

As I’ve discussed in a previous post, this is just another instance of a general problem in the security industry.  You can’t do rational analysis of effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, risk, and the rest without some estimate of false positive rates and their costs.


Here’s another nice post on the impact of false positives in security, this time regarding automated blocking of “abnormal” bank transfers:

by Russell on March 17, 2010 at 12:24 am. Reply #

Most of false-positives statistics are done over pure-english e-mail gateways. When facing diferent languages, even by Gartner highly rated antispam solution get to 30-35% of false positives. And this is really abusing.

by Alexander on September 6, 2010 at 9:31 am. Reply #

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