MessageLabs, Inc., a managed email security provider based in New York, reports that the flood of pornographic images, whether they're tied to off-color jokes, e-cards or material from porn sites, is ebbing. And analysts there say it's because employees are more aware today that the IT department is keeping an eye on content coming into and going out of corporate networks.
But the same analyst is concerned the lesson could quickly fade from memory and the tide of smut could pick up again.
''There is less smut going into inboxes, but we're not talking about spam,'' says Natasha Staley, an information security analyst with MessageLabs. ''This is about employees sending or receiving solicited images. It's pornography that they've asked for... You often have a group of employees sending pornographic images back and forth amongst themselves.''
And those pornographic images open up a Pandora's Box of problems for the company's legal department as well as the IT department. Staley explains that executives have to worry about improper use of the network and protecting their bandwidth, but they also have to worry about an image on someone's computer screen creating a hostile working environment and the legal issues that could ensue.
The good news is that there's less smut floating around those networks today.
MessageLab's study shows that between March and August, they filtered out one pornographic or otherwise inappropriate email for every 4,756 messages sent through the company's service. In the same period last year, however, the ratio was one in 1,357.
''Employees are becoming more aware that their employers are keeping an eye on them, so they're asking for less porn to be sent to them,'' says Staley. ''The switch in attitude has been quite dramatic. I just don't think you can get away with that kind of thing now so people are keeping a closer eye on what they send and ask for.''
Staley also notes that IT administrators can look for patterns of behavior. If an employee is caught receiving a pornographic e-card, the ramifications will be less drastic than if it can be shown that he repeatedly has porn sent to him at work and then shares it with his co-workers. Workers generally are fired for having racist, sexist or pornographic material on a company network.
But Staley warns that IT administrators shouldn't let up their guard.
''I'd sound a note of caution that just because we've seen a drop, it won't necessarily be sustained,'' she adds. ''It could be a knee-jerk reaction. People have this in their minds, but then they forget and they become complacent and you see it popping up again. I don't think the problem will go away. This could be a temporary blip. I don't know if it will be a sustained trend.''
To sustain the drop in smut, Staley advises IT execs to continue monitoring the network, and to keep educating their users about the fact that they are being monitored and why it's important to keep porn off the network. But she also advises them not to be too iron-handed in their approach.
''Don't be too Draconian in the measures you implement,'' Staley says. ''At Christmas time, maybe it's not a big deal that people are sending electronic greeting cards. But people need to know where you draw the line. Get them involved about why this is important. That will help you get the message across.''