Email users clean up their act

Work email is tending to be used more for actual work than it was previously, according to new figures from MessageLabs

The amount of pornography, jokes and other non-work-related emails being sent via office email systems is actually showing signs of decline -- dropping over the past six months to levels well below the comparable period last year.

Recent scandals have shamed organisations for the content circulating on their networks and the amount of time lost to costly cyberloafing has been widely publicised, as have the legal risks posed by lax email usage policies.

According to MessageLabs' figures the volume of such inappropriate emails is almost 70 percent down on the levels seen during the same six month period, March to August, during 2003.

So is the message starting to get through? And if so, what has proven to be the catalyst for change: is it the fear of losing their jobs which is keeping employees in line or a dawning realisation among employers of the risks which means they have tightened up their controls?

Natasha Staley, information security analyst at MessageLabs, said: "There have been some high-profile cases of email abuse and disciplinary actions which have probably made people take note; among employees, the level of fear and uncertainty about what they can and cannot get away with is probably one reason we have seen a fall in these kinds of email."

But tightening compliance legislation such as the Companies Bill, Sarbanes-Oxley, and Basel II could also have had an effect.

According to Staley, the "knock-on effect" of companies regulating, monitoring and controlling what their internal systems are used for means "by default you are going to catch out people who are sending things such as pornography" -- even if that isn't within the original remit of such legislation.

While compliance measures are intended to create audit trails of transactions and guard against accounting irregularities, it is clearly a side-effect that companies are also catching time-wasters and porn-peddlers in their nets.

Staley added: "Once you start scratching the surface it's amazing what you might find."

However, Staley warned that such figures may not represent the death knell for cyberloafing -- instead it could just be a seasonal blip, as companies make a token effort to crack down on such things and employees 'lie low' until the storm of recent scandals blows over.

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