Email limitations put confidential data at risk

Unnecessarily tight restrictions on e-mails are putting confidential data at risk and impacting productivity, according to a new study by Virgin Media Business.

Virgin Media Business reckons ‘outdated’ limits on e-mail size are making it difficult for workers to send large file attachments. As a result, it believes staff are increasingly using other methods such as personal Webmail accounts or unsecured USB devices to ensure that important messages are received.

The downside of this this new trend could be putting organisations at risk of data leaks whilst having a negative impact on productivity.

Virgin Media Business’ study of mailbox limitations in the public sector found that 69% of workers cannot send or receive e-mails larger than 10MB in size, and 89% are unable to send or receive e-mails in excess of 15MB.

The average worker can only send e-mails of up to 12.5MB in size and has just 140MB of space in their mailbox. These tight restrictions mean that workers frequently find that they are unable to share big PDF documents, slideshows, images and video content.

Virgin Media Business said in most cases people will attempt to reduce the size of the files that they are sending or call for help, creating extra work for the IT department and limiting how much time they can spend on driving business growth.

However, the real concern is that other workers are taking things into their own hands. Virgin Media Business claims we’re seeing a trend towards staff uploading files to file sharing sites or sending them via personal Webmail accounts. Whilst this ‘make do and mend’ approach may seem to work, staff could be unwittingly placing sensitive information at risk.

Restrictions on e-mail size were originally introduced to conserve bandwidth, but advances in networking and communications technology mean that such tight limitations are no longer necessary. And with workers increasingly needing to share multimedia files with colleagues and customers, these limitations are becoming a real headache.

Commenting on the research, Andrew McGrath, Executive Director, Commercial, Virgin Media Business said: “For millions of people e-mail is an integral part of their job, but it can also be a major source of frustration. Many workers regularly find that e-mails bounce back because the recipient’s mailbox is full or an attachment exceeds e-mail size limits.

“Often staff will attempt to get around the problem by sending a file using a personal e-mail account, file sharing Website, or unsecured USB device. But despite having the best intentions, these solutions can create more problems than they solve by potentially putting confidential data at risk.

“With the average worker sending or receiving more than 160 e-mails a day it’s high time that these restrictions were lifted. Many of the existing limitations were designed to conserve bandwidth, but advances in networking and communications technology mean that they are no longer necessary and could be hindering workers, whilst potentially making corporate data vulnerable. Sweeping these e-mail restrictions away could free up time for IT staff to focus on driving real business change through innovative technology.”

Christian Harris is editor and publisher of BCW. Christian has over 20 years' publishing experience and in that time has contributed to most major IT magazines and Web sites in the UK. He launched BCW in 2009 as he felt there was a need for honest and personal commentary on a wide range of business computing issues. Christian has a BA (Hons) in Publishing from the London College of Communication.