Maximizing Email Security ROI: Part III - No More Mr. Nice Guy: Enforcing E-Mail Policy

Jan 16 00:36 2005 CipherTrust Print This Article

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This is the third of a five-part series on Maximizing E-mail Security ROI.E-mail is an easy,Guest Posting cheap and readily available form of communication. It’s a great tool for businesses, but without proper safeguards in place to regulate the information transmitted it can also be a potential threat. An effective e-mail policy should be all-encompassing, helping organizations comply with federal regulations, protect intellectual property and prevent offensive materials from being transmitted across their networks. Companies in the healthcare and financial industries are compelled by law to ensure that they meet strict requirements with regards to patient and customer information privacy. In addition, virtually all publicly traded companies must now implement measures to prevent leaks of confidential corporate information. A large part of complying with these regulations involves the implementation and enforcement of corporate e-mail policy. According to The ePolicy Institute’s “2003 E-Mail Rules, Policies and Practices” study, only about half (52%) of 1100 U.S. companies surveyed have any form of e-mail monitoring and policy enforcement. Even more alarmingly, only 19% monitor internal e-mail and only 39% monitor outgoing e-mail, leaving a large majority of American businesses wide open to a litany of harsh consequences. These consequences include financial penalties due to violations of federal legislation, loss of competitive advantage from breaches of confidentiality, lawsuits from employees alleging a hostile work environment and destruction of company reputation as a result of disgruntled employees or irresponsible e-mail use.This week’s newsletter will focus on the issues surrounding e-mail policy enforcement and what companies can do to ensure that they are not harmed by regulatory violations, intellectual property loss, costly litigation and embarrassing headlines.

Regulatory Compliance

In nearly every industry, e-mail is the primary method of communication, both internally and outside the organization. Healthcare professionals use it to collaborate with colleagues and staff and correspond with patients. Banks, brokerage firms, insurance companies and tax preparation firms use it to communicate with customers and partners and perform countless millions of online transactions every day. Company employees and executives use e-mail to relay messages discussing corporate financial performance, proprietary product information and human resource records. The ever-increasing reliance on e-mail is has brought with it federal legislation such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), Gramm-Leach Bliley Act of 1999 (GLBA) and Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SoX), mandating the protection of confidential information that is stored on, or accessible through, enterprise networks. Generally speaking, this legislation is designed to compel businesses to:

  • Ensure that e-mail messages containing confidential information are kept secure when transmitted over an unprotected link;
  • Ensure that e-mail systems and users are properly authenticated so that confidential information does not get into the wrong hands;
  • Protect e-mail servers and message stores where confidential information may be stored; and
  • Identify and track information that must remain confidential.
Failure to comply with the information privacy laws due to violation of company policy carries with it stiff financial penalties for the enterprise (up to $250,000 per incident) and possible criminal charges and jail time for company executives. The good news is that a comprehensive messaging security approach can play a major role in maintaining a company’s information integrity, greatly enhancing its return on security investment.

Asset and Intellectual Property Protection

Among a company’s most important assets are its proprietary product- or service-related data and other information designed to attain competitive advantage. However, e-mail’s prevalence and ease of use make it a ticking time bomb for companies wishing to protect this information. A study published by PC Week revealed that upwards of 30% of 800 employees surveyed admitted that they had sent confidential information such as financial reports, customer records or product data via e-mail to recipients outside the company. Ten percent admitted receiving e-mail containing confidential information.Not surprisingly, most breaches of confidentiality originate within a company. A classic example of this is Borland International, a U.S. software company. A Borland employee used the company’s e-mail system to send confidential information to Symantec, his new employer and one of Borland’s main competitors. The information transmitted included product design specifications, sales data and information regarding a prospective contract for which both companies were competing. As a result, both the (former) Borland employee and the message recipient were charged with trade secret theft, and a civil lawsuit followed (though it would seem unlikely that any financial award could repair the lasting damage caused by the intellectual property loss).


Part I of the Maximizing E-mail Security ROI series discussed the serious problem of the spam flood rushing toward the enterprise gateway. While the primary costs of spam are largely volume-related, just one offensive or disparaging internal e-mail can be equally damaging to the company coffers. As the overall volume of e-mail sent across the Internet rises exponentially, we have seen a corresponding spike in the number of messages containing jokes, images, video clips and other non-workplace-appropriate content sent from one employee to another within an organization or to friends and family outside the organization. The frequently sexual or racial nature of this “friendly fire” spam means that organizations must be more vigilant than ever in ensuring that these messages never reach their intended targets. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that employers are potentially liable for sexual harassment by their employees, even if they are unaware of it. Employees who feel violated by an e-mail sent from a coworker can file a lawsuit alleging a hostile work environment and cause significant financial harm to an enterprise found legally liable for the violation. According to the ePolicy Institute, over a quarter (27%) of large companies have defended themselves against claims of sexual harassment resulting from inappropriate e-mail and/or Internet use. For example, Chevron paid $2.2 million to settle a sexual harassment suit stemming from tasteless e-mail sent to female employees from male employees. Enterprises face the additional risk of an employee sending false or slanderous e-mail about coworkers, the employer or their competition. One of the most egregious cases involves UK firm Norwich Union. In 1999, an employee sent an e-mail stating that one of their main competitors was in financial trouble and being investigated by the Department of Trade and Industry. The competitor took legal action against Norwich Union and received £450,000 (over $840,000 USD) in an out-of-court settlement.

Reputation and Credibility

They say “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Don’t believe them. A sufficiently disgruntled employee, male or female, could giveth her a serious run for her money. While airing gripes around the water cooler is relatively standard practice in many organizations, airing those same gripes via e-mail can prove devastating to a company’s image. Damage from negative remarks e-mailed outside the company by employees is both immediate and residual—the message recipient might choose to forward it to a friend, or post it on an industry message board or Internet rumor mill. Once the message leaves the enterprise gateway, you don’t know where it may turn up…but you know that it will. Whether the information being circulated is true or not is completely irrelevant—the damage is done the instant the “Send” button is clicked. There is no doubt that the contents of corporate e-mails reflect on the business. UK law firm Norton Rose learned this the hard way when two of their employees distributed the sexually graphic “Claire Swire” e-mail, which has been read by over 10 million people around the world (there’s a decent chance you’re one of them). As Norton Rose was clearly identified by name in the e-mail, this scandal caused massive reputation damage and continues to circulate today, compounding the harm already done. This is but one example; a UK study revealed that small- to medium-sized businesses are losing £1.5 billion ($2.8 billion USD) every year to e-mail and web abuse and misuse, representing a 15% dent in their potential profits. Can your company afford to operate on a fraction of its normal revenue every year? Neither can most.

Lay Down the Law

E-Mail policy enforcement must be an ongoing effort across the enterprise. To learn more about how to ensure that your company doesn’t suffer the consequences of careless e-mail behavior, download CipherTrust’s FREE whitepaper, Controlling Spam: The IronMail Way. Part IV of this series will consider the issues involved in determining ROI for preventing e-mail system intrusion.

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