Web Brings Corporate Problems

SAN MATEO (07/31/2000) - The Internet opened the doors to your information systems for success and disaster, do-gooders and miscreants, speedy business communication and loss of productivity. As your company harvests the fruits of the Web, beware the costly dangers of its rotten and poisoned apples.

We often equate the office life of our parents with an antiquated boys' club where harassment knew no limits and business communication knew no speed. Back then, if you wanted to get the same information to 10 different people you sent 10 letters through the U.S. mail or you left 10 separate messages with 10 obedient secretaries.

Today employees have the right to a harassment-free workplace and the Internet has made mass communication as easy as a few mouse clicks.

Not so fast, says Walter R. Boos, president of Content Technologies, in Bellevue, Wash., a developer of e-mail and Internet content security solutions.

The Internet has exposed your company to a potential bevy of business and harassment nightmares. Here are three dangers to which your tech-savvy company may be vulnerable.

1. Inappropriate materials in e-mail

The proliferation of e-mail gives your employees the ability to send racist, sexist, and other objectionable messages to a nearly limitless number of people, explains Boos. As an employer, you are responsible for the e-mail content of even your most depraved employees. If an outraged worker files a lawsuit after receiving offensive or threatening e-mail, your company's pocketbook -- and reputation -- could suffer.

2. Confidential information leaks

Most information leaks occur not as a result of malicious intent but through an innocent accident, says Boos. A perfect example is when employees unintentionally send sensitive e-mail messages to erroneous recipients. "If I have two people with similar names in my Outlook address book," says Boos, "I could choose the wrong name, hit the send button, and innocently expose confidential information."

3. Inappropriate use of tech assets

Consider Boos' example of a certain insurance company's bandwidth crisis in December 1998. An employee of this company received a holiday e-mail with an "elf bowling" computer game attached. "It was kind of cute and humorous," says Boos, "but in computing terms, it took up a fair amount of space." The recipient liked the game so much that he sent it to several of his friends within the company, who each sent it to several others. Within 48 hours the company's e-mail system crashed. "Tens of thousands of very innocent e-mails overloaded the system." explains Boos. "This was not Darth Vader malicious stuff."

What can you do to prevent these nightmares? Look for the answer in next week's issue.

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