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Top 5 Business-Email Blunders Revealed
2003-12-15

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SAN RAMON, Calif. -- The year's biggest email mistakes included sending confidential information in inadvertently revealed messages, destroying evidence emails and not monitoring employees who use their company systems illegally, according to the ePolicy Institute and email-security firm Clearswift.

"Careless clicks can -- and do --sink corporate ships," ePolicy Institute Executive Director Nancy Flynn said. Embarrassing headlines, six-figure lawsuits, and other email-related disasters can strike any organization that fails to manage email strategically, she said.

The Top 5 list includes these "blunders:"

  1. Using email to send sensitive personal information and comments. The Enron Corporation used its email system to send sensitive employee information, such as Social Security numbers, wage packages, performance evaluations and other personnel information. Employees also sent revealing messages about office romances, affairs and other personal comment. When the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission seized Enron's email records in an investigation, it posted them online, creating embarrassment or dangerous security breaches.
  2. Deleting email messages during a legal investigation. Investment banker Frank Quattrone's email urging members of his technology-sector banking group at Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) to "clean up" their files during a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation led to his being charged with obstructing federal grand-jury and SEC investigations.
  3. Issuing potentially negative confidential internal memos. Two Merrill Lynch senior executives faced a barrage of negative publicity after someone leaked their confidential internal memo warning 50,000 employees to be careful with email content to the business media.
  4. Not monitoring employee email use, and using company email to receive illegal or embarrassing messages. An American Family Insurance employee the FBI suspected was receiving child-pornography emails at work was prevented from suppressing that evidence because his company repeatedly reminded users that it could monitor or search their computers. However, the employee's activity didn't surface until the FBI's investigation into the email source, a Yahoo! discussion group.
  5. Not controlling instant-messaging use. More than half of the regional stock brokerage firm Stifel Nicolas had downloaded free IM software and were using it without management knowledge or approval and without oversight from its compliance division, which makes sure all messages meet strict SEC and stock-exchange regulations. "Instant Messaging is a form of turbocharged email that creates a written business record that can be subpoenaed and used as evidence in litigation or regulatory investigations," Clearswift and the ePolicy Institute said.

For more on the ePolicy Institute, visit its Web Site.

To learn more about Clearswift, visit the Web Site.