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An email has become a critical part of our everyday business, from internal management to direct customer support. The benefits associated with email as a primary business tool far outweigh the negatives. However, businesses must be mindful that a successful email platform starts with basic principles of email security to ensure the privacy and protection of customer and business information.

Set up a spam email filter. It has been well documented that spam, phishing attempts, and otherwise unsolicited and unwelcome email often account for more than 60 percent of all emails that an individual or business receives. Email is the primary method for spreading viruses and malware and it is one of the easiest to defend against. Consider using email-filtering services that your email service, hosting provider, or other cloud providers offer. A local email filter application is also an important component of a solid antivirus strategy. Ensure that automatic updates are enabled on your email application, email filter, and anti-virus programs. Ensure that filters are reviewed regularly so that important emails and/or domains are not blocked in error.

Train your employees in responsible email usage. The last line of defense for all of your cyber risk efforts lies with the employees who use tools such as email and their responsible and appropriate use and management of the information under their control. Technology alone cannot make a business secure. Employees must be trained to identify risks associated with email use, how and when to use email appropriate to their work, and when to seek the assistance of professionals. Employee awareness training is available in many forms, including printed media, videos, and online training. Consider requiring security awareness training for all new employees and refresher courses every year. Simple efforts such as monthly newsletters, urgent bulletins when new viruses are detected, and even posters in common areas to remind your employees of key security and privacy to do to create a work environment that is educated in protecting your business.

Protect sensitive information sent via email. With its proliferation as a primary tool to communicate internally and externally, business email often includes sensitive information. Whether it is company information that could harm your business or regulated data such as personal health information (PHI) or personally identifiable information (PII), it is important to ensure that such information is only sent and accessed by those who are entitled to see it. Since email in its native form is not designed to be secure, incidents of misaddressing or another common accidental forwarding can lead to data leakage. Businesses that handle this type of information should consider whether such information should be sent via email, or at least consider using email encryption. Encryption is the process of converting data into an unreadable format to prevent disclosure to unauthorized personnel. Only individuals or organizations with access to the encryption key can read the information. Other cloud services offer “Secure Web Enabled Drop Boxes” that enable secure data transfer for sensitive information, which is often a better approach to transmitting between companies or customers.

Set a sensible email retention policy. Another important consideration is the management of email that resides on company messaging systems and your users’ computers. From the cost of storage and backup to legal and regulatory requirements, companies should document how they will handle email retention and implement basic controls to help them attain those standards. Many industries have specific rules that dictate how long emails can or should be retained, but the basic rule of thumb is only as long as it supports your business efforts. Many companies implement a 60-90 day retention standard if not compelled by law to another retention period. To ensure compliance, companies should consider mandatory archiving at a chosen retention cycle end date and automatic permanent email removal after another set point, such as180-360 days in archives. In addition, organizations should discourage the use of personal folders on employee computers (most often configurable from the e-mail system level), as this will make it more difficult to manage company standards.

Develop an email usage policy. Policies are important for setting expectations with your employees or users, and for developing standards to ensure adherence to your published policies. Your policies should be easy to read, understand, define and enforce. Key areas to address include what the company email system should and should not be used for, and what data are allowed to be transmitted. Other policy areas should address retention, privacy, and acceptable use. Depending on your business and jurisdiction, you may have a need for email monitoring. The rights of the business and the user should be documented in the policy as well. The policy should be part of your general end-user awareness training and reviewed for updates on a yearly basis.

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