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Email monitoring is set to be the next cyber cash-cow, according to a report out today.

It may sound slightly Big Brotherish, but more and more companies are latching onto the idea of monitoring staff email to stop unwanted or dangerous data from entering or exiting their cyberwalls.

IDC has forcasted that the worldwide market for content security will reach $952 million in 2004, compared to the paltry $66 million that was generated last year.

Content security covers items such as attachments, .exe files, viruses, porn or spam sent via the Net or email. Products allow firms to scan traffic for excessive file size, corrupted data, or words and phrases that may cause offence - such as profanities, porn, or racist or sexist remarks.

But how can companies be sure that their security software will only throw out the dangerous stuff? How will the technology know that the incoming email headed "Tart" isn't actually a message from someone's mum, refering to her secret family recipe for Treacle Tart?

"It depends on the context," explained Chris Heslop, marketing director at UK content security firm Content Technologies. "For example, 'Breast' would be OK within the context of chicken. But in the context of 'magnificent', well that's different."

Indeed. Magnificent chicken breasts could prove extremely offensive to a vegetarian.

Anyway, the point is that a whole mixture of nasties can now be spread by the exploding medium of the Web, which can damage a company's reputation as well as its customer confidentiality, or risk virus infection. Alternatively, this type of monitoring activity spells less freedom for staff using the Internet at work.

According to Content Technologies, the US content security market is being driven by legal concerns, while European companies are more worried about privacy issues, and in Asia/Pacific the protection of intellectual property is a key factor.

Last year a bunch of staff at The New York Times were fired for sending "offensive" and smutty emails. They were found out when the company intercepted internal emails. ®

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