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Is your email safe from prying eyes?

Most UK workers don't trust their IT departments - or their colleagues for that matter...
Written by Will Sturgeon, Contributor

Most UK workers don't trust their IT departments - or their colleagues for that matter...

A staggering 60 per cent of UK office workers believe their IT department regularly intercepts and reads their personal emails - and almost half believe their colleagues are in on the act in the hope of unearthing juicy gossip. Research conducted by Yahoo! revealed mass paranoia among the UK workforce when it comes to the sanctity of their email inbox. Forty-five per cent of the 18,000 office workers polled said they suspect colleagues of taking a sneaky peak at their email when they step away from their desks. Sixty-one per cent levelled the more serious accusation of snooping at their tech team. Almost one third of all respondents also revealed concerns about the intended recipients of their emails, expressing fears that they may share sensitive information with others, as famously happened with the notorious Claire Swire email. More than a quarter or recipients said they live in fear of sending a personal message to the boss in error - a mistake which cost one Dell employee his job when he sent saucy pics to the wrong address. In reponse to the charge of snooping, one IT manager, who wished to remain anonymous, told silicon.com: "It's unlikely that tech staff would get access to mail files as they are password protected and the passwords cannot be unencrypted." While he said it is possible for techies to change passwords in order to access mail files, it is impossible to do it discreetly, because "they wouldn't be able to change it back as they wouldn't know what the original password was." Sounding a word of caution to tempted techies, he added: "If anybody was caught doing anything like this then I would certainly fire them." He added that staff should be far more worried about files they have saved on shared networks. "What would be more common is accessing files stored on the servers," he said. "Sysadmins generally have access to all areas of the system, including personal directories and nobody can ever be bothered to password protect Word or Excel files for example. The problem is tracking it and proving it. The system logs could be interrogated but you would have to be suspicious in the first place to do it. Personally, I think it's human nature to be curious and I'd be amazed if it wasn't widespread." The obvious way of preventing any problems arising from personal emails is to not send them from work. While that suggestion would sit well with hard work purists, whole industries are thriving from people's paranoia about email snooping in the office. Yahoo! suggests, unsurprisingly, that people should register a webmail address with a service provider such as Hotmail (ok... or Yahoo!). Other suggestions include buying a monitor mirror - similar to a car's rear view mirror so you can spot when people are reading personal emails over your shoulder. Similarly, simple security advice applies, such as remembering to log out whenever you leave your PC. Is this paranoia justified? Are you worried about workmates reading your personal emails? Or do you think people should just stop sending them in work time? Whatever your opinions, we want to hear from you, email editorial@silicon.com.
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