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Companies need to increase diligence about email security

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April 1st, 2008

According to an industry-wide survey performed in March, Internet security firm Webroot warns that today more than ever, the growing utilization of corporate e-mail as a dependable and efficient communications means has become a lot more critical now that the rapidly increasing number of spam and virus attacks containing malware and other trojan bots are placing sensitive corporate and customer data at the highest levels of risk ever seen to this date.

The sheer volume of email messages, the types of confidential information contained in business email, and most importantly, the creative methods that would-be thieves use to steal corporate email have changed drastically over the past two to three years, according to Webroot's survey conclusions.

Chris Benham, v.p. of corporate marketing for Webroot said "the two things that stand out the most in this new report are the dramatic increase in attacks against businesses, and the casual response from company officials about protecting their e-mail."

While organizations all over the world are creating large volumes of e-mail and making some efforts to secure and store it as much as they possibly can, cyber-criminals from everywhere are targeting e-mail users, knowing very well it's a data form rich in valuable personal and corporate information, Webroot officials said.

The security firm added that companies need to be extremely diligent in staying ahead of these would-be network criminals, both outside and inside their premises.

Organizations everywhere need to take more proactive steps in placing more secure and rigid policy rules and strictly enforcing all employees in all departments to fully comply with all new e-mail restrictions created.

Attackers from everywhere are likely driven by a hightened financial motivation, whether it is real or ficticious. Attackers are better at understanding the critical role that e-mail holds for businesses. They have stepped up their efforts to increase their financial reward, Benham said.

"Attackers are going where the money really is by breaking into business processes (BPOs). At times, their actions can be hard to track down and even harder to prosecute, Benham added. "I am a bit surprised by the dramatic increase in the use of e-mail to get at corporate information," he said.

Overall, infections from viruses and spyware are the Number One e-mail security concern today. These security worries are followed by important security breaches and email spam. About 54.3 percent of the respondents experienced spyware and virus attacks last year. And over 40 percent dealt with a phishing attack at least once.

Over fifty-eight percent of survey respondents said they are very or extremely concerned about email spam. About 31 percent of the organizations responding experienced a moderate to major impact on system performance and employee productivity as a result of spam received in their inboxes last year.

Webroot conducted a survey of 1,494 e-mail security product decision-makers to explore their views about e-mail related threats and the latest methods to protect business e-mail. Respondents were from both regulated and unregulated companies and organizations in seven countries:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • France
  • Germany
  • Japan
  • The United Kingdom
  • The United States
  • Close to 50 percent of the respondents said they are very or extremely concerned about inaccurately blocking legitimate e-mails. About 24.6 percent of all the respondents said they experienced a DoS (denial-of-service) attack last year. And over 61.6 percent of organizations experienced at least one e-mail outage over the past 12 months that lasted at least 5 hours or more.

    The report also revealed that 49.5 percent of the respondents indicated a significant concern about employees sending sensitive company information externally. However, despite those concerns, only half of organizations with more than 100 computers have policies in place to restrict employees' personal e-mail use.

    Among smaller organizations with fewer than 100 computers, less than 31.7 percent have employee e-mail policies in place.

    The Webroot survey also indicates that about 73.2 percent of all respondents said e-mail is very or extremely important for communicating with customers and suppliers form all over the globe. About 61 percent said it was very or extremely important to providing customer support, and ensuring good relations and rapport.

    In its latest report on the state of Internet Security, Webroot referred to a report issued by industry analyst firm IDC by Mark Levitt titled, "Worldwide E-mail Usage, From 2007 to 2011." In that report, IDC estimated that almost seven trillion person-to-person business e-mails will be exchanged this year alone.

    In sharp comparison, the report also estimates that about 1.67 trillion business e-mails were sent last year, and that over 7.13 trillion business e-mails will be sent in three years from now.

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    Several more studies also reveal that e-mail users at work pose increasing risks by failing to adequately recognize filtered e-mail as spam before opening it. According to the Webroot e-mail Security Survey, e-mail is critical to communicating with customers and providing customer support.

    The majority of companies and organizations surveyed also rely on e-mail as a communication and collaboration tool among employees and to process sales transactions.

    Another example of today's growing e-mail danger comes from Endai Worldwide, an Internet marketing company. Endai issued results of a survey on Dec. 11 of last year that reveals about 50 percent of e-mail users check their junk mail folder on a daily basis, likely driven by concerns that legitimate e-mails can be incorrectly tagged as spam.

    Reviewing identified spam in a junk folder increases the chances that spam will be opened. Particularly concerning is the fact that 16 percent of the Endai survey respondents reported making a purchase from a message originally tagged as spam.

    In a survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project from February to March of last year, security researches concluded that the growing volume of e-mail increases the likelihood that an e-mail user can inadvertently open unwanted spam.

    As a matter of fact, over 26.82 percent of the survey respondents said they occasionally open an e-mail message before realizing they are spam, according to Webroot's summary of that report.

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    Source: Webroot.

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