Pharmaceutical group AstraZeneca accidentally sent out confidential internal corporate forecasts to financial analysts last week.

According to the FT, it sent the emails on Thursday 5 January and, after it was alerted by one recipient on Friday of the hidden internal information, it contacted a number of analysts and requested them to destroy or return the information without accessing it.

In a statement, it said: “In line with its usual practice, the company will provide specific financial guidance for 2012 and any updates to 2010 to 2014 midterm planning assumptions, in conjunction with its full year 2011 financial results announcement, scheduled for 2 February 2012.”

Andres Kohn, vice-president of technology at Proofpoint, said: “The AstraZeneca breach this week has highlighted the important issue when it comes to enterprises and the management of their data.

“Even in a company that is careful with their data, it just goes to show that you can't always protect people from themselves and human error. Even though this was a classic ‘fat finger' mistake, there are various things enterprises can do to avoid such eventualities.

“Businesses should have policies in place to ensure that all data is handled appropriately, and technology to help enforce those policies. This technology can range from easy-to-use secure messaging solutions that allow users to easily encrypt sensitive messages, to systems that automatically monitor and alert staff to risky actions so they can learn to avoid them. Additionally, the technology range can also control data transmission and encrypt materials where necessary."