Outbound E-Mail Cause For Concern? eMarketer

July 14, 2004

Not all companies feel outbound e-mail holds significant risks, and those who do mostly focus on the possible loss of confidential memos, trade secrets and intellectual property.

Proofpoint, Inc. and Forrester Consulting (a division of Forrester Research) conducted an online survey of 140 technology decision makers at large North American companies with over 1,000 employees. Over two-thirds of respondents (68%) said reducing the legal and financial risks associated with outbound e-mail is “important” or “very important,” while 24% felt reducing such risks is only “somewhat unimportant,” and just 6% think it is not at all important.

The biggest concern among IT decision makers is the leaking of confidential memos, followed closely by intellectual property and trade secrets. E-Mail’s ease of use, and the ability for a message to be endlessly forwarded and copied once it has been transmitted electronically, means that company secrets can be accessed by millions within days or even hours of the first message being sent. Furthermore, retrieval of the information once it is out is essentially impossible. Complying with regulatory guidelines, such as ensuring the security of health information, financial statements and private personal information, are deemed less important subjects to be leaked via e-mail.

Also lower down on the list of concerns, though still significant, is inappropriate content and attachments. E-Mails sent out from the company will bear the name of the company in the address, and even if such messages are forwarded, the original sender’s name and employer will often remain in the message. Having the company name attached to inappropriate content that is not work-related is bad, but perhaps worse is when an employee’s message ends up sullying the company name in some way.

There have been some now-infamous, though extreme, incidents in which an employee described inappropriate behavior in a e-mail that eventually got forwarded all over the Internet, embarrassing all parties involved.

In response to these concerns, companies are employing a variety of methods to filter their outbound e-mail messages. Many use technological solutions, including monitoring features built into anti-spam software, but a surprisingly large amount also incorporate active monitoring of e-mail messages by a dedicated staff (30.7%) or plan to do so (9.3%); 32.9% say they regularly audit e-mail content. Obviously, many companies feel that the extra security is worth the peace of mind.

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