Sony Hack Attack, Part 2: More Ways to Avoid Damaging Communications

Our recent post on the Sony hack attack generated a great deal of comment on LinkedIn, mostly from people who agreed that email should be treated more carefully. Most agreed with our contention that that “all communications should be professional. Being derisive, racist or sexist in comments not only opens us to litigation and damaging publicity – it’s just wrong.”

Commentators also provided some great ideas on avoiding private thoughts and conversations becoming public. Here is some of what they had to say:

Mel Hopkins, a storyteller and former broadcast journalist, says the one thing she learned as a broadcast journalist is your “mic is always hot.”

“It was that lesson that allowed for me to not so much safeguard what I say (or write for that matter) but rather (to) check the source of my contempt within and correct it,” she wrote. “Maybe that might be the first lesson in effective business communication. After all, we are adults.”

Paul Busch, who describes himself as an experienced sales and operations executive, says employees should realize that “email is a company resource and all materials are subject to review, sometimes by people that you think will never see what you are writing…Commonsense could have saved Sony some embarrassment, with or without the data breach.

Our friend, Steven J. Ibarra, JD, an executive consultant, said he always trained his students to “assume you are being photographed (or) recorded….there is no such thing as confidential communications, and to always assume you are talking to law enforcement.”

This is great advice, especially with everyone carrying a camera and tape recorder on their mobile devices. The proliferation of cameras has become an issue in sports clubs’ and other facilities’ dressing rooms, where privacy can easily be violated. With mobile devices nearby, private conversations also are easily recorded.

Chris Brooks, IT chief for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Seattle, warns that the “expectation of privacy is always going to be in question across the electronic mediums.” He also notes that “even phone calls are subject to monitoring.”

Cell phones, on which we increasingly rely, are notoriously vulnerable to hackers who can intercept and record conversations. As you may recall, phone-hacking scandals plagued the royal family and many others in Britain in the 1990s and early 2000s. The News of the World newspaper folded amid the controversy surrounding its role in hacking the phones of celebrities, politicians and crime victims.

Many commentators decried Sony’s lack of proper encryption and security on its email system – a topic the media has explored in some depth. Large corporations around the country and the world undoubtedly are re-examining their security protocols. So should employees. How many of us are truly good about changing passwords frequently and using unique passwords for each site or email account – if our company doesn’t force us to do so?

Updating passwords and avoiding the obvious ones helps avoid hacking. Deleting defunct email accounts also will avoid the embarrassment of reaching out to friends to urge them not to open files sent by hackers from an old email account.

Patrick Rardin, of Eagle Feather Enterprises, Inc., had the best new tip for managing email. He said that many email programs offer a delayed sending option for all outbound email. He has his set for a four-minute delay, and he says that delay “has saved me a lot! Additionally if your email message is heated in any way, save it to drafts and let it ‘rest’ as oftentimes a night’s sleep may change your reaction.”

We recently posted six commonsense rules for email that provides other email tips as well. Do you have any additional thoughts on how to guard against communications that can embarrass or harm your business and/or brand?

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