Email is part of an enterprise's communications lifeblood. I use it every day for my job. It helps me communicate with internal staff, external contacts and even serves as a personal assistant when I need to remind myself to do something later. Heck, the Google Alerts I receive every day help supply our news stories in the Daily Dashboard and our weekly regional digests. I simply can't imagine not using it.
But, of course, emails are historically hard to secure. Maybe privacy professionals should be looking at privacy-focused technology solutions to help with that.
Sony Pictures Entertainment discovered email's vulnerability the hard way two years ago when hackers infiltrated and leaked to the world the emails of its executives. The fallout was immense for the organization and, at the very least, embarrassing for staffers. It exposed racial and gender bias and generated harmful headlines for weeks.
More significantly, the leaks of the emails of the Democratic National Convention and, separately, John Podesta may have helped sway the 2016 presidential election. Similarly, the use of a private server by Hillary Clinton when serving as secretary of state may have been a factor in her losing the election. We may never know if it was the cause, but we do know that it played a role.
So it's not surprising to see another email scandal hit the headlines this week. Of course, now, the potentially damaging emails belong to the president's son, Donald Trump Jr. To head off a report by The New York Times, Trump Jr. on Tuesday tweeted out four pages of emails that may tie him to the Russian government. As I write these words, these emails are the center of the American political discourse, the outcome of which could be damaging or, as we've seen with so many other things with the current administration, just another bump in the road.
With that in mind, The Atlantic's Adrienne LaFrance wrote something that may well resonate with the privacy community:
"In an earlier era, this sort of exchange might have taken place over the phone, or via telegram, or, you know, face to face. So it makes sense that the scandal of the moment is tied to a ubiquitous form of communication. Especially when that form of communication is so easily forwarded, or copied, or hacked. Given that it was the utter carelessness that Donald Trump seemed to find most offensive about Clinton's use of a private server, one can only imagine the conversation he's having with his son today. This scandal really isn't about email, after all, it's about how Trump used it."
That last thought is also worth considering. It's so easy to misuse email. Whether you forward something on to the wrong people, cc: "everyone" on an email chain, include a sensitive attachment or send an email to the wrong person, the risk of a breach is significant. And no amount of internal training will absolutely eliminate this human risk factor.
My purpose here is not to dive headfirst into American politics right now. Just a two-minute look at my Twitter news feed is enough to raise my personal anxiety and bolster my lack of understanding about what the heck is going on in this country. No, my purpose here is to highlight the vulnerability of email and point toward a category we defined in our Privacy Tech Vendor Report.
"Part of the reason Donald Trump Jr. is finding himself in hot water right now is he forwarded an entire email chain," Future Today Institute Writer and Founder Amy Webb told LaFrance. "I can't state that enough. Email is penetrable. Unless you are using a lockdown system and encryption, anybody can access it."
Webb gets at the heart of email risk.
After some consideration late last year, we included a category in our vendor report called "Enterprise Communications." For the most part, these technologies are security based, but there's a privacy component that is demonstrated every time there's a damaging email leak in the news. What executive or staffer, for that matter, would want their email or instant messaging communications made public? And how many of us have mistakenly forwarded an email to the wrong people? I take a guess that it's most of us.
There is a slew of companies offering enterprise communications solutions so that organizations and individuals can limit the chances of being exposed in nefarious ways. If you are looking to lock down your communications, take a look at our report. You might find a solution worth considering.
photo credit: Joe The Goat Farmer 3 Emails your Business Should be Sending to your Subscribers via photopin (license)
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