Generation Gmail poses major risk to firms’ security

27 Feb 2011

Some 85pc of workers under 25 admit they send work-related emails or documents to or from personal email accounts, like Gmail or Hotmail. ‘Generation Gmail’ finds corporate mailbox sizes too constrained and work around this hurdle.

Results from an international research project commissioned by Mimecast have revealed that offices are being compromised by an emerging ‘Generation Gmail’ of corporate email users.

A new cohort of social-media savvy employees, Generation Gmail displays a particular frustration with corporate email restrictions, complaining that mailbox sizes are too constrained and they will readily “work around” using personal email to be as productive and flexible as possible.

The findings have revealed corporate email users under the age of 25 are putting businesses at risk with a slapdash attitude to company intellectual property (IP) flowing outside the organisation and being stored on public servers. Use of personal email for work purposes is pervasive, with 85pc of under 25s admitting they send work-related emails or documents to or from personal email accounts, the highest of all age groups.

Mimecast commissioned Loudhouse, an independent marketing research consultancy, to conduct a survey to investigate how attitudes to work email use are evolving and how progressive employers are managing this core communication channel. The research comprised a total of more than 2,400 online interviews with corporate email users in the UK (1,080 interviews), the US (805), Canada (272) and South Africa (300).

Personal email is bleeding into the workplace

“With social networks and personal email a ubiquitous part of their life, the way email is used by this demographic is bleeding into the workplace,” Nathaniel Borenstein, chief scientist at Mimecast explained.

“So it is not surprising that expectations for workplace technology are shifting accordingly,” he commented. “The results find workers frustrated with corporate restrictions and working around these using personal email accounts in order not to affect their productivity or flexibility,” Borenstein said.

In tandem with Generation Gmail’s appetite for technology – and instinctive desire to share and collaborate – comes a frustration with traditional workplace tools and behaviours.

More than half (51pc) of under 25s say if they had an unlimited work mailbox they would be less likely to send work emails to personal accounts – 11pc higher than other age groups.

The Generation Gmail report also found that:

·         More than a third (36pc) of incoming email to work inboxes is NOT work related

·         More than 300 work-related emails are sent per person via personal accounts each year

·         Typically, around half of these emails contain attachments, meaning that the average employee under 25 will send about three emails a week containing corporate IP and potentially sensitive information outside of their corporate environment

·         Generation Gmail is particularly predisposed to personal email; 52pc rated it as better than work email in terms of mailbox size, compared to just 29pc of over 55s

Borenstein, one of the creators of the MIME standard, which makes modern email delivery possible, continued: “Email is a vital channel, indeed the preferred choice, of communications within companies today. Although more fanciful headlines would have us believe that email is on the verge of extinction – the reality is that email is embedded within company culture and will remain a core communication channel for some time to come.

“However, unprecedented change is afoot as a new generation of people who have had lifelong exposure to technology enter the workforce, bringing with them unique challenges in the provision and management of email and other technologies for companies.

“The proliferation of social networks and mobile devices has transformed the communications landscape within companies; employees increasingly mix and match technologies, using devices and platforms interchangeably to find workarounds that maximise their flexibility and productivity. Employers need to work out what they are going to do in the face of this cultural shift,” said Borenstein.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years