Productivity drain

If there is one software package that truly deserves the widely used badge of ‘killer app’, then it has to be email. Now the most ubiquitous application of all modern IT, email has moved from operating simply as a means of communication, to serving as the primary interface for the majority of users.

More recently, PDAs, BlackBerrys and mobile phones have taken the application out of the enterprise and onto the road. Now the prevailing expectation is that users will be able to access and operate their email on a 24 hour basis from nearly any location. With email now standing at the cornerstone of business, protecting the application from hostile security threats, as well ensuring its proper management, is more critical than ever. But how should the business community go about doing this, and who is best able to deliver these goals?

These were the issues that came to the fore during Information Age’s latest webinar in April. Bob Tarzey, service director at analyst house Quocirca, said that successful email management forms part of a “much broader content management problem”. As email has become central to all business communications, the risk of content leakage, as well as content overload, has grown proportionally. Coupled with the application’s proven vulnerability to viruses, malware, spyware and Trojans, email is now something of an untameable beast, harbouring “the potential to kill productivity,” he added.

This problem was underlined by research unveiled by Peter Lorant, senior director of EMEA marketing at Postini (the on-demand communication security provider and sponsor of the webinar), which found that a mere 25% of organisations feel confident that they have the proper systems and procedures in place to effectively manage their communications. This picture, added Tarzey, is in large part a product of the break down of fixed corporate perimeters as a result of home working, mobile working, and ultra-mobile computing.

Creating and enforcing adequate policies is vital if information security is to be preserved, particularly as hostile Internet-based threats continue to grow at an alarming rate. This was made clear during 2006, when the threat landscape experienced an unprecedented escalation of unsolicited email, with growth rates of spam hitting 150%. Botnets, Lorant pointed out, were largely to blame for this, as ‘zombie’ computers, unwittingly controlled by a malicious host, are commanded to issue increasing levels of spam.

“Botnet growth has turned the world upside down in just  a few months,” Lorant observed, adding that Postini now tracks nearly two billion unwanted messages every day, generated by more than one million IP addresses globally. “We can think of this as grid computing gone bad,” Lorant added.

Faced with an asynchronous threat that can scale rapidly, organisations are finding it ever harder to manage their email systems in-house. For example, said Lorant, during one 24 hour period in 2007, Postini saw data volumes of email traffic hit 17 terabytes, 93% of which was spam. The costs associated with managing such colossal volumes in-house are sky-rocketing, with IT security market analysts at Ferris Research predicting that the global cost of spam in 2007 will double to reach $100 billion.

And it is not just the cost of such disruptive content that companies have to worry about, said Steve Mansfield, a technical account manager at Postini. “When we talk to customers we find that the volumes of spam they receive also act as a denial-of-service attack against their gateway.”

Outsourcing email security to an on-demand provider offers an economically viable way to tackle these multiple security, cost and productivity issues, Lorant suggested. This approach to security delivery is growing in prevalence, and with more than a third of the Information Age webinar audience ranking email as their primary communications concern, that use of managed services is likely to become the predominant email security model of the future.

Ian Cowley

Ian Cowley is the managing director of printer cartridge company By taking a systematic trial and improvement approach, Cowley and marketing director Sean Blanks have created a Sunday...

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