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Sony’s Woes and Email Lessons Learned

hackersmall (534x800) (427x640)Originally published December 2014.

Regrettably, Sony Pictures Entertainment is the latest company to suffer a cyber-attack. These events are becoming increasingly frequent and progressively more devastating. In this case, Sony had its computers and phones paralyzed which effectively brought the company to an electronic halt. And we all know that in today’s world an electronic halt is commensurate with calamity. This lasted for several days.

If this wasn’t enough, emails from various departments and from assorted company executives were also made public. Sensitive documents such as salary details and healthcare files were suddenly available to all.

It is debatable as to how much of this could have actually been prevented and it is likely to be the subject of comment and speculation for months to come. Sony is not the first major corporation to be infiltrated and certainly won’t be the last. Calls for increased focus on cyber security and cyber risk management have been made clear and imperative for some time now.

What sets this event apart in its gravity is the imprudent emails sent by various Sony senior executives. The bulk of the focus has been on Amy Pascal, Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chairman. It seems that Ms. Pascal has some strong and negative opinions about Angelina Jolie and Leonardo DiCaprio to mention a few. She also made offensive and racist comments about President Obama’s film preferences.

It is genuinely hard to understand how an executive at this level and stage of her career could be so careless and indiscreet. Surely she knows the cardinal rule of electronic communication, which is, do not put in an email anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable being forwarded indiscriminately.

Additionally, as a senior executive at Sony, surely her email is managed by an assistant or two. What might they be thinking when they see these types of comment? If not the victim of a hacker, Pascal was certainly taking a chance putting these comments out there for an assistant or even a technology person in the company to peruse.

The obvious lesson here is that we need to be mindful and ever vigilant about what we put in emails. What is less pronounced but no less important is the fact that we cannot assume that our bosses and leaders are clear about email protocol and appropriate behavior. Training on these issues cannot simply be for the Facebook and Instagram set. In fact, I would venture to say that millennials and those native to the internet have a clearer understanding of what and what not to do online than those of us who grew up using the telephone for important conversations.

Amy Pascal and her colleague are only human, we know. However as the leader of a large and high profile company, humanity and all the judgment and potential reproach that can go along with it needs to be checked at the door.