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Is Your Email Thread a Security Risk?

Many of my clients are very conscientious about protecting their inventions and intellectual property. Early in our relationship they present a non-disclosure agreement for me to sign. They avoid sharing writing samples that discuss their pricing and their newest technology. They escort me on their company premises.

But when it comes to confidentiality, it is important to recognize that email may pose a risk too. Long email threads that share many email addresses, lots of people's titles and projects, an occasional client name, insights into internal power struggles, and other private corporate information should not leave the company.

The other day I received a revealing email thread from a client, not as a writing sample but in the course of doing business with the company. I know I would not share the information, but I worry about the risk if other outsiders find such private information in their email inboxes. 

Remember: That long email thread may contain information you would not want to have sailing out into the world beyond your doors. Edit it before you launch something you did not intend.

What advice on confidentiality and email do you have to share? I welcome your insights.

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

4 comments on “Is Your Email Thread a Security Risk?”

  • Usually when the email thread is long, I cut it down to a reasonable size, first to reduce the size of the email going out, second to keep the email to be precise and confined to the issue at hand, and third to keep unneccessary things out of it. That way the recipient will not know what is not relevant to the current communication. It also keeps confidential matters being passed in the e-mail unwittingly.

  • I have my e-mail set to send a forwarded e-mail as an attachment, then either cut and paste the appropriate content into my e-mail and remove the attachment, or remove the entire attachment to avoid a sending an e-mail string that may contain proprietary information. I also consistently remove e-mail addresses from the string. It takes a little extra time but I feel it is worth it.

  • CSG, thanks for your comment. I do not yet completely understand your process of handling a forwarded email as an attachment. However, I can tell that you are being very careful about the information you send.


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