Top 10 e-mail blunders of 2008

What do Halloween and a sent e-mail have in common? Both can be equally frightening, according to Proofpoint, a provider of unified e-mail security, archiving and data loss prevention solutions.

With Halloween lurking around the corner, the company has identified some of the scariest e-mail snafus of 2008. These blunders, attacks and mishaps have caused sleepless nights and financial peril for consumers, corporate executives, politicians and of course, e-mail and IT administrators. And read more Tales of IT Terror.

In no particular order, here are this year’s top e-mail mishaps:

1. Phishing Fiasco

In September, it was reported that cyber-criminals were launching fake sites for charities and asking unsuspecting consumers for donations to help in the hurricane disaster efforts.

With any phishing site, people can be tricked and treated into revealing financial information and often discover the fraud after it is too late.

How not to get caught by phishing traps

2. Preying on Palin’s E-mail

A hacker breached the personal Yahoo! account of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and revealed portions of its content on a site called Wikileaks. Security experts note that it can be fairly simple for a determined person to hack into a personal e-mail account, but concerns have been raised about Palin using her personal e-mail for business issues.

David C. Kernell, son of Tennessee State Representative Mike Kernell, was indicted earlier this month in the case.

3. Obama’s Unsightly Spam

A malicious spam e-mail spread in September claimed to have a link to a sex video of Obama, but instead included spyware to steal sensitive data from the victim’s computer. Current events and sensational news headlines-both real and fictional-remain popular subject lines for phish and spam attacks because of their potential to lure recipients into opening the e-mail or its attachments.

4. E-mails: Dead and Buried

Oracle Corp. failed to unearth CEO Larry Ellison’s e-mails that were sought as evidence in a class-action lawsuit. According to the U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, Oracle should have figured out a way to comply with the order to produce the information, which was issued in late 2006.

5. E-mail Job Elimination

Carat’s chief people officer accidentally alerted staffers that their jobs could be in peril by sending an office-wide e-mail only meant for senior management. Additionally, the specifics on the talking points of their restructuring were shared. (For information on job searching, check out our careers resource center.)

6. Unhealthy News Anchor Obsession

A former news anchor, smitten by his female co-anchor was charged with hacking into her e-mail account 537 times in 146 days, often checking on her 10 times a day or more. He logged in from both home and work and passed on some of the information to a Philadelphia newspaper gossip columnist.

7. Space Encounters

NASA found a computer virus on a laptop aboard the International Space Station, which carries about 50 computers. E-mail continues to be one of the most common distribution methods for new viruses and other malware, underscoring the need for organizations to deploy anti-virus technology at the e-mail gateway, e-mail server and end-user desktop levels.

8. Qualcomm’s E-mail Cemetery

Qualcomm got smacked with an US$8.5 million penalty because it bungled its own discovery of e-mail relevant to a patent lawsuit with Broadcom. As more courts require thorough discovery searches, mistakes like these will come to the forefront. ( For more on e-discovery, read Electronic Discovery: Are You Really Ready?)

9. Batting Back Backscatter

Stephen Gielda, president of Paketderm, found his servers were being inundated with a tidal wave of backscatter messages. At one point, he was being hit by 10,000 bounce back messages per second.

10. Angel-O-Lantern

Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo hit reply rather than forward when typing “disgusting” in response to a customer’s e-mail.

The media and the investor community noticed Mozilo’s response. In fact, one investor on a Web site wrote, “I personally know people who have been destroyed by their predatory lending practices. I hope they get what they deserve. (Like their stock going to zero.)”

Says Sandra Vaughan, senior vice president of marketing and products for Proofpoint, “Given all of the potential risks and costs associated with e-mail, it’s no surprise that nearly 15 percent of IT executives that Proofpoint recently surveyed said they would eliminate e-mail in their organizations if that were feasible.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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