Businesses in the UK face a "spiralling threat" from inappropriate employee use of corporate email systems, according to a YouGov survey unveiled today.
The poll found that a relaxed attitude to email at work, a "banter culture", and employees taking advantage of free email and internet services are causing the danger to firms to rocket.
The most dangerous threats identified by the research include circulation of offensive material and downloading of pirated software, in addition to the loss of confidential information.
According to the study, commissioned by content security firm Clearswift, many employees consider email jokes as part of modern office life, with almost half (45 per cent) of all UK workers admitting to receiving and forwarding jokes and other inappropriate material via the corporate email system.
"The circulation of offensive content leaves companies open to litigation and damage to reputation," said Clearswift chief executive David Guyatt. "What may once have been considered slightly bawdy banter could mean that the company, and the directors personally, end up in very hot water."
Some four per cent of survey respondents admitted to sending confidential information through their companies' email system.
The survey also showed that almost 45 per cent of staff use webmail regularly, potentially leaving firms open to email-borne threats such as viruses, Trojans and other malware. Unrestricted webmail use can also provide a back door for the invisible loss of confidential corporate information.
Downloading of pirated software at work, including music, films, games or applications, is another significant problem. Almost 10 per cent of employees said they have used company systems to download illegal software.
The survey was conducted by YouGov among 2,500 respondents in the UK in December 2004.
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