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Email Attachments Generate Nearly 6,000 Unnecessary and Unsecure Files per Employee per Year

Pervasive use of email attachments combined with prevailing corporate user behavior generates close to 3Gb of unneeded and vulnerable file content per employee per year

The antiquated file sharing model of email attachments is a serious and costly threat to society, draining scarce resources into a largely avoidable problem.

Significant money, time and effort are lost in attempts to secure, govern and make productive our emails. Central to the problem is email’s half a century old method of content sharing via completely unsecure and ungovernable full copies of files as attachments. The problem of unprotected file duplication is made even more egregious given the standard corporate practice of prolific forwarding and copying (Cc and Bcc). As a result, email is one of the primary drivers, if not the primary driver of data sprawl in the enterprise — and a big part of it is a complete waste. How wasteful? Let’s crunch the numbers.

Quantifying unnecessary data sprawl caused by email attachments

By pulling together statistics from various sources we define and estimate an order of magnitude of unnecessary file duplication plaguing organizations.

With available email statistics, we can estimate how much file content is delivered yet completely ignored. We do this by crossing the amount of ignored email with their average amount of file attachments. So here goes…

Calculating the Waste of Email Attachments

The average office worker reads through about 200 emails per day [1]. Of these emails, 144 messages are largely irrelevant, mostly received in copy (Cc and Bcc) [2]. Of these 144 (Cc, Bcc) messages, 24% have attachments of which only 6% are actually accessed [1,3]. This means that 94% of those delivered attachments will never be touched. Emails with attachments average 500Kb [1]. To determine how much is file content, we deduct 15Kb for the email message and its envelope and reduce the remainder by 37% (adjusting for email’s encoding of binary data) [4]. Given a year has 261 workdays, quick math suggests that a whopping 2.86Gb, or nearly 3Gb, of ignored file content is unnecessarily created for each person per year. If we assume that an average file is 500Kb in size, it means that around 6,000 ignored, unneeded files are duplicated per year per employee. These files waste network bandwidth and storage, clog inboxes, and are exposed to exploits, compliance violations and accidental mishandling.

the perpetuation of email attachments creates an insurmountable challenge

While many of us will simply give a wry smile at what we instinctively suspected all along, for the CIOs, CISOs and anyone who has had to deal with a serious email breach, ransomware attack or legal discovery — this is a visceral reminder that the perpetuation of email attachments creates an insurmountable challenge.

So, what is to be done? Great news is that we don’t have to bow our heads and continue to accept a decades old model of file sharing. Cloud storage platforms, like Box, OneDrive, Google Drive and Egnyte, have for years served as a viable, secure and efficient alternative for organizations of all sizes. Sending files as links instead of attachments ensures that only those who want the files actually get them — completely eliminating the aforementioned 2.86Gb data sprawl problem. Furthermore, links provide authentication, greatly mitigating exposure from breaches. Today, users have ready access to cloud storage link creation. Both Microsoft Outlook and GSuite have baked in ability (even encouragement) for sending files as cloud storage links, promising greater control and unlimited file sizes. When user adoption stands in the way, services like mxHero can make the use of cloud storage links automatic — easier on the user and the CIO.

The continued use of an antiquated method of file sharing developed when color TV was beginning to outsell black and white, is diverting our precious time, money and energy away from investments in the products and services that society wants us to produce. Millions of dollars spent on file storage, processing, security and lost productivity due to unnecessary email attachments could be better spent developing new cures, educating our young and building our businesses. It is high time we break the email attachment habit - if not for ourselves, for our coworkers, our society and even our planet [5].

The email attachment technology in widespread use today was developed when color TV was beginning to surpass black & white. Time to move on.


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