Email filters, firewalls disrupting productivity of both MPs and enterprises

Have email filters and firewalls ever interfered with your productivity? Ask MP Michael Fabricant who has been unable to receive messages from his constituency thanks to new email filters installed after the latest cyber-attack.

Perimeter security and email filters are viewed by many as impediments to productivity since they limit their access to websites and emails.

Fabricant was among 90 MPs whose email accounts were breached by hackers thanks to their usage of weak passwords earlier this year. After the threat was mitigated, their accounts were reactivated with stronger security features and filters to ensure hackers didn't breach their accounts again.

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However, the arrival of the new email filters has also made it difficult for Fabricant to interact with citizens from Lichfield, his constituency. The said filters have quarantined many emails from citizens that cannot be recovered.

"Following the cyber attacks on Parliament a few months back, the House of Commons has introduced additional filters on incoming emails and an unwanted side effect has been that a number of messages have been lost and cannot be recovered.

"We are really sorry about this. This has now been fixed by the Parliamentary Digital Service and we believe this failure only applies to messages sent here We would ask that urgent messages sent between September 9 and 18, be sent again," Fabricant said.

While this issue may have been faced by many of the affected MPs and the citizenry, nobody understands the restrictions imposed by filters and firewalls more than those working at large enterprises and technology companies.

Do security protocols and firewalls affect productivity?

A survey conducted by Bromium earlier this year revealed the extent to which cyber security protocols have played havoc with employee productivity. This is because of the absence of security guidelines and processes that do not interfere with user access and employee productivity.

Out of 175 security professionals interviewed by Bromium, 32% said that if they were given a choice, they would remove web proxy services and products which hinder user access, and another 31 percent said they would do away with whitelisting and blacklisting of websites.

At the same time, 64 percent of security professionals admitted that they have modified security to allow employees more freedom to work and 40 percent have even turned off security firewalls to accommodate requests from various departments.

Company boards must consider these matters seriously, considering that both productivity, as well as cyber security, would ensure the growth of an organisation and that neither can be prioritised at the expense of the other. At the same time, IT security personnel should not be forced to weaken security protocols to enhance efficiency as the same may offer an alluring window for hackers to breach systems and steal sensitive data.

What is the way out?

A way out could be the implementation of CPU-enforced micro-virtualization protocols that will ensure that employees will be able to check emails, download and open attachments and click on website links without worrying about phishing attacks.

'Virtualization-based security works silently and unobtrusively protecting each activity and can even be used to allow the malware to run because it can’t get out of the micro-VM. This way security doesn’t impact the user experience or their productivity, meaning there is no need to ‘turn it off’ when it becomes inconvenient,' said researchers at Bromium.