At least 25 per cent of employee e-mails are personal messages from family and friends or relate to an individual's non-professional hobbies or interests according to Martyn Bartlett, director of security vendor Tumbleweed Communications.
Bartlett said Australian enterprises are losing millions of dollars each year through lost productivity as a result of the proliferation of e-mails which often have nothing to do with the business, yet eat into staff time and network bandwidth.
By 2003 there will be more than 20 billion e-mails circulating daily on the Internet worldwide and Bartlett believes Australian enterprises are risking their corporate assets and their profitability by failing to implement adequate security measures around online communications.
"Organisations are making substantial investments in physical security, protecting their networks with firewalls, but are underestimating the need to impose a level of corporate governance on the messaging stream," he said.
Bartlett said this is why the use of content filtering systems such as Tumbleweed's Messaging Management System (MMS) has increased more than 15 per cent in the US.
However, he said Australian business has been hesitant to monitor e-mail content for fear of imposing a "big brother environment" which is a reactive approach to the problem.
"Any company operating in a competitive field which views information and staff output as strategic assets needs to think very seriously about a proactive approach to electronic communications. Basic risk management dictates that they provide some means of controlling the messaging stream that enters and leaves the workplace," Bartlett said.
"I am not just referring to content but other countermeasures such as viral protection, archiving, compliance monitoring, automatic encryption and access."