Proofpoint has announced an appliance that can help IT departments trace and analyse the path of inbound and outbound e-mail messages.

Smart Search, priced starting at $13,000, is a dedicated appliance that works with Proofpoint's e-mail security gateways to log and report on e-mail that has travelled through the system, according to Andres Kohn, vice president of product management.

The new appliance, based on a licensed version of Splunk's IT Search engine, gives Proofpoint customers one central spot for searching on information about an e-mail message without having to access the messaging appliance, Kohn says.

This gives IT help desks the tools they need to quickly answer user inquiries about lost e-mail messages or to determine whether employees are violating corporate e-mail policies, he says.

Being able to give the help desk the power to answer such inquiries without having to grant them access to the actual e-mail messages - which could violate privacy laws - would be a significant benefit, says Sharon Finney, information security administrator for Dekalb Medical Center in Decatur, which has 3,300 e-mail users.

"This is going to help me put tools in the help desk's hands to troubleshoot calls asking, 'Why didn't I receive an e-mail?'" says Finney, who is beta testing the new appliance. "Today to do that, I would have to give them full-blown access to the Proofpoint appliance, and I don't necessarily want them to have access to all that information."

Enterprises with multiple data centres can trace all their e-mails from Smart Search's central interface, which can search using a number of criteria, including sender, recipient, date and time. In addition to finding messages, Smart Search reports on how the messages were processed by the Proofpoint e-mail security product and on the message's status, Kohn says.

Smart Search can also be used to review employee sending patterns and quickly determine whether, for example, an employee is communicating with a competitor, or to gather information for legal discovery, he says.

While there are products on the market that help IT departments trace electronic messages, Smart Search is unique in its ability to trace a message not only through the Proofpoint system, but, with some integration, also in other parts of a company's messaging infrastructure, such as in Exchange or Domino servers, Kohn says.