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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 June, 2004, 13:05 GMT 14:05 UK
Company secrets leak via e-mail
Hand on mouse
Sending an e-mail by mistake is easily done
Confidential information is leaking out of companies due to careless e-mail use, a survey has found.

Nearly 40% of workers have received confidential information that was not meant for them according to a poll conducted by e-mail filtering firm SurfControl.

Another 15% admit sending confidential information by mistake and 17% of those are unable to retrieve the data.

Few companies are protecting their sensitive data said SurfControl.

Alarm bells

"Between 70 - 90% of company information is stored in electronic format and around 35% of this is held in the e-mail system," Martino Corbelli, the director of marketing at SurfControl, told BBC News Online.

Over 90% of respondents said they use e-mail to send and receive confidential information.

"Alarm bells should be ringing but I'm not sure they are," he said.

According to Mr Corbelli it is relatively easy for companies to protect their most sensitive data.

"Our system has intelligent agents that can be taught to recognise what proprietary data looks like and what it refers to and rules can be built around where it can go," he said.

Many companies are still coming to terms with the added security risk e-mail systems and the misuse of them poses.

"The business community is very na´ve and tends to think that security means just dealing with viruses," said Mr Corbelli.

Criminal offence

UK business bosses should take this issue with grave concern and do all in their power to ensure appropriate steps are taken
Martino Corbelli, SurfControl
He estimates that only two-fifths of the 3,000 or so UK companies that have installed SurfControl are aware that sensitive data can be protected as well.

There are dangerous precedents for the damage a mis-sent e-mail can do.

One Cisco employee accidentally sent the company's final quarterly results to everyone in the firm before they were released.

"Actions like this are actually criminal offences," said Mr Corbelli.

Derek Wyatt, MP and chairman of the All Party Internet Group, wants to make company board directors accountable for net security breaches.

"UK business bosses should take this issue with grave concern and do all in their power to ensure appropriate steps are taken to minimise any legal exposure in addition to the damage that can be done to the organisation at large," said Mr Corbelli.

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