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Is Your Boss Reading Your E-Mail?

Be careful what you say in that work e-mail you're about to send -- an increasing percentage of companies are employing people and systems to pore over outbound e-mails for proprietary and sensitive corporate information, according to a new report from Proofpoint, an e-mail security company based in Cupertino, Calif.

The study, conducted for Proofpoint by Forrester Consulting, surveyed 332 "e-mail decision makers" at U.S. companies with more than 1,000 employees. (You can get the study by following the link above, but you'll have to cough up some information about yourself first.)

The study found more than a third of companies employ staff to read or analyze outbound e-mail, with more than 40 percent of companies with 20,000 employees or more reporting that they do this. Many of the companies that said they don't currently monitor employee e-mail say they soon will, with one-third of this group reporting that they plan to hire people to scrutinize their employees' e-mail communications.

The study offers the rather obvious analysis that as more reports surface about employees sharing (or selling) insider information, companies will increasingly monitor outgoing e-mails to ensure the employees aren't undermining their employer's best interests or internal corporate e-mail policies.

The companies surveyed by Forrester estimated that nearly a quarter of all outbound e-mail contains content that poses "a legal, financial or regulatory risk." So if nearly 25 percent of companies know this, it shouldn't come as a surprise that just as many said they have fired an employee for violating internal e-mail policies in the past 12 months. Fully half of those asked said they had warned or disciplined an employee for breaking official e-mail rules.

As this interesting and entertaining thread over at Slashdot points out, companies are also concerned about employee use of Web-based e-mail services, which can pose a security risk not only from employees using it to send sensitive corporate information, but it can also be a gateway for e-mail worms, viruses and other cyber-bugs that would otherwise be caught by a company's cyber-security systems. As one Slashdot reader writes, companies know that savvy employees can always log on to a secure Webmail service like Google's Gmail and their employer would never know what they are sending.

By Brian Krebs  |  June 8, 2005; 1:23 PM ET
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Is Google webmail more secure than Yahoo! and other similar services?

Posted by: Sean | June 8, 2005 2:33 PM | Report abuse

of course the same "savvy" employees probably know it wouldn't look good if logs show they were on gmail all day hitting refresh -- hence the benefit of using a work account.

Posted by: blob | June 8, 2005 4:49 PM | Report abuse

of course "savvy" net admins can implement goup policies preventing web-based e-mail, etc.!

Posted by: SmartBear | June 9, 2005 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Good on both counts.

If corporate counsel wants to read email instead of helping shape company policy, let them.

If employees are up to no good, let them get caught and eat cake. If the corporation is up to no good, this will only police their little world before it comes crumbling down.

Let everything that is hidden, be revealed!

Amen to that. What are you hiding?


Posted by: e_buzz_miller | June 9, 2005 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Food for thought :-

1. The employee faxes the sensitive data which begs the question, are faxes being monitored ?

2. The employee sends the sensitive data by email from their mobile, or sends an SMS - are cellphone calls being monitored ?

3. The employee sends snail mail - is snail mail being monitored ?

Posted by: bb_matt | June 9, 2005 12:45 PM | Report abuse

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