The hacking of SONY Pictures data not only raises questions about whether threats can force a company to pull a product from the market place, but generates a host of new concerns for anyone who uses e-mail or instant messaging.
While SONY executives worry about how much money the studio will lose by pulling the film “The Interview” days before its debut, there is a parallel issue for communicators — the harsh reminder that there is no such thing as a private electronic communique.
How quickly we forget. It’s not as if incriminating or embarrassing e-mails made public are a new phenomenon:
- In 2002, e-mails within former Wall Street giant, Merrill Lynch, revealed to prosecutors a series of conflicts of interest
- In 2010, U.S. Senator Carl Levin (D-IL) repeatedly invoked e-mails when grilling Goldman Sachs executives about selling investments they knew were bad for clients
- Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s steamy e-mails to his secret lover in 2008 made for salacious reading when they were published in a newspaper
The SONY hacking publicly revealed a series of embarrassing e-mails as well as confidential personal data. Once again, corporate executives around the world are suddenly falling over themselves issuing new directives to staff on how to be cautious with e-mails.
Much of this is common sense; rules need to be codified and enforced within organizations. Among the ones we recommend the most:
- Consider using private web-mail addresses instead of addresses on server-based corporate networks to send and receive ultra-sensitive e-mails. Personal web-mail addresses are less likely to be hacked by people bent on accessing and publicizing masses of corporate or organizational data.
- If the content is that sensitive, make a phone call or walk down the hall and talk about it face-to-face instead.
- DON’T MAKE EMAIL OFF-COLOR JOKES OR CONTROVERSIAL COMMENTS THAT CAN COME BACK TO HAUNT YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION.
- Be careful when replying to an e-mail. Are you sending your “reply” to one person, or are you mistakenly responding to a “reply all” list?
- Before sending an ultra-sensitive e-mail involving a public figure, large enterprise or known brand, ask yourself, “Could I survive seeing this e-mail in The New York Times?”