Today's highly digital world requires businesses to use a variety of different tools to interact with colleagues, partners and customers. While the advent of smartphones and tablets is transforming a large quantity of these communications to the mobile landscape, the proliferation of cloud computing and other technologies has kept email relevant. As a result, the vast majority of organizations still use email as a means of sharing information with others.
Despite the fact that email has been around for some time, there still seems to be a lack of understanding regarding how to keep sensitive information secure while using the technology. This was reiterated when the personal email accounts of Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin were hacked, but it certainly isn't limited to high-profile instances, suggesting that decision-makers across the country need to boost email data security practices.
Understanding the risk
A new study by phone-based authentication provider PhoneFactor revealed that nearly three-quarters of businesses today transmit highly sensitive information over email channels. The survey found that 59 percent of respondents shared proprietary business information, such as corporate strategies, over company email systems. Another 49 percent of decision-makers sent out sensitive customer information through email, while 48 percent shared intellectual property.
Enterprises, in particular, are guilty of sharing even more confidential information. Roughly 47 percent of large companies said they regularly sent human resources information, like compensation plans and reviews, through email, while another 38 percent said they sent employee Social Security numbers and other personal data.
These findings suggest that the private sector is using email to transmit highly confidential information that could have severe repercussions if it were exposed. As a result, decision-makers need to implement robust data protection tools and develop strict best practices to ensure sensitive information isn't exposed through vulnerabilities or the malpractice of employees.
Poor email security can result in unfortunate consequences
Despite commonly using email to share sensitive information with other individuals, many decision-makers don't understand the seriousness of poor practices. The survey revealed that 59 percent of senior executives said they worry most about being publicly embarrassed or having their reputation tarnished if sensitive information were exposed via email. Another 54 percent and 49 percent said they fear losing customer and employee trust, respectively.
While losing trust and having a poor reputation is unfortunate, companies can also breach regulatory compliance and data privacy laws, which would result in fines or worse.
In regard to these concerns, the study found that there seems to be a heightened awareness for the need of strong security, as 96 percent of survey respondents believe it is important to secure email channels, with nearly three-quarters classifying email protection as "very" or "extremely" important.
Additionally, more than 40 percent of decision-makers have revamped email security in the past 12 months, while another 33 percent plan to add more protective solutions to email in the coming year.
Tips to boost email data protection
A separate report by Small Business Computing suggested that decision-makers implement an email archiving system with tools capable of establishing a baseline for normal email behavior on corporate channels. As a result, IT departments can detect any anomalies and potentially eradicate a problem before it infects the entire infrastructure.
Employees are also essential to strengthening email security, as poor practices can lead to the exposure of sensitive information. It is therefore important for IT executives to lay down a set of best practices that must be followed and consequences for individuals who choose not to, Small Business Computing noted.
By taking initiative and strengthening defenses, companies can continue using email without worrying about inadvertently exposing confidential records.
Data Security News from SimplySecurity.com by Trend Micro