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Email Security's Image Problem

IT pros may be cranking up their email surveillance strategies, but a host of new threats could pose fresh worries. JPEGs, audio files, and camera phones remain Achilles heels for firms afraid of losing sensitive data. (See Email Gets More Outsourced Options, Here Comes the Judge, and Email Looms as IT Threat.)

Despite the plethora of products on the market for scanning text-based email content, images and audio files are tough to track, according to Vit Kantor, founder of security consultancy Spectrum Systems, which works with a number of banks and telecom firms.

"There is no effective way at the moment to analyze a picture or an audio file," Kantor tells Byte and Switch. "With JPEGs, people can run Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology over the pictures and see what the information is, but it's expensive."

The image gap in email security is a major issue for firms in the manufacturing and design sectors, where drawings and photos are at the heart of their intellectual property. "There is a gap, just because there are no good [OCR] tools out there yet," says Jayson Hahn, CIO of West Caldwell, N.J.-based manufacturer Merrimac Industries, which makes radio frequency and microwave components. "Its definitely a situation where it's difficult to say for sure that everything is fine."

Even if the appropriate technologies were readily available, though, Hahn says they may not be practical to use. Merrimac, he explains, would need a full-time member of staff to examine all the image-based attachments his firm sends out and check for false positives.

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