Study: Increased E-Mail Usage Causing Increased Security, Storage Problems

The increasing use of e-mail by consumers and businesspeople alike is making it a more attractive target for hackers and criminals, according to a study from IronPort Systems' Threat Operations Center that looks at the ancillary costs of dealing with spam.

The study, "Internet E-mail Traffic Emergency: Spam 'Bounce' Messages Are Compromising Networks," found that "bounce messages" -- those that get returned to the sender -- make up 11 percent of all "hostile mail," including spam, viruses and phishing messages. E-mail users often receive notifications saying, "The message you sent could not be delivered because it contained a virus." But often, these notices come from an address the user doesn't know or has never sent mail to.

These users, concerned their machines have been compromised, may contact their corporate IT support team for assistance. But the help-desk calls are unnecessary because the message the end user received was a misdirected bounce, yet another tactic criminals are using to infiltrate networks. The cost of such incidents is significant: More than 50 percent of Fortune 500 corporations have experienced mail service outages or delays because of misdirected bounces targeting their networks, and IT help-desk-associated costs on bounce messaging is more than $5 billion per year, according to IronPort Systems' study.

IronPort is promoting its Email Reputation technology as a way to combat this problem by broadening the context in which a message is evaluated; other vendors are following suit. For example, last week Symantec also announced Mail Security for SMTP 5.0, a solution that protects against inbound and outbound e-mail threats at the Internet e-mail (SMTP) gateway. Shipping in May, the solution integrates technology Symantec acquired from its purchase of Brightmail last year. In its own Internet Security Threat Report released in March, Symantec detected an average of 7.92 million phishing attempts per day in the second half of 2005, 39 percent higher than the first half of the year.

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On top of these emerging threats, the increased use of e-mail and more stringent compliance requirements are beginning to cause major storage and archiving problems for many companies. To address this, Postini today announced its Personal Archive service, an e-mail archiving package that includes compliance, legal and operational archiving. The new service complements Postini's existing e-mail management tools by making it easier for individuals to store, delete and track their old e-mail messages.

Tools such as these are especially crucial now that e-mail is legally viewed as identical to paper documents and thus must be stored accordingly.

"About 70 percent of all companies are involved in some kind of litigation, so it's a permanent state of existence for most companies, but most current databases are not designed with the scale or robustness to house all these documents," says Andrew Lochart, Postini's senior director of marketing.