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Worker E-Mail and Blog Misuse Seen as Growing Risk for Companies

July 20, 2007
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Employee misuse of e-mail, blogs, message boards and media-sharing Web sites posed a significant security risk for publicly traded U.S. companies last year, with 31.8 percent investigating a suspected violation of privacy or data protection regulations, according to a new survey.

A report on outbound e-mail and content security conducted by Forrester Consulting and Proofpoint, a messaging and data security firm, found that 26 percent of the companies surveyed saw their businesses affected by the exposure of sensitive or embarrassing information.

Experts familiar with data security say corporations risk the loss of company trade secrets and also leave themselves open to a variety of defamation- or slander-related lawsuits when blogs and message boards are used inappropriately.

Proper use of e-mail continues to be a major problem at many firms, as one in three companies surveyed said they investigated a suspected leak of confidential or proprietary information last year. Furthermore, companies on average estimated that almost 19 percent of all outgoing e-mail contained content that poses a legal, financial or regulatory risk. Showing the seriousness of these matters, 27.6 percent of the companies surveyed reported terminating an employee for violating e-mail policies.

The survey also found that blogs and message boards have become a growing source of risk for companies. More than 19 percent of the companies disciplined employees for violating blog or message board policies, and more than 9 percent fired employees for such infractions.

Robert Scott, a partner at Scott & Scott, a Dallas-based IT compliance and management firm, said the ramifications of leaks of important data on blogs and message boards can be devastating. Scott said a company’s brand could be irreparably damaged if trade secrets fall into the hands of competitors.

"The overall financial impact depends on what the secrets are, who’s getting them and what they are used for," he says.

Scott also emphasized that blogs are here to stay, so companies need to monitor them vigorously. In addition to leaking sensitive information, employees making disparaging remarks about competitors or using blogs for sexually explicit or offensive material can also lead to liability and lawsuits.

"It’s a matter of enforcement and compliance," Scott noted, "because the individual employees may not be aware or may be intentionally disregarding [policies]."

Filed by Matthew Scott of Financial Week, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

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