This post first appeared on Forbes.com
The Sony hack, which the FBI is now blaming on North Korea, wound up exposing emails between Sony executives and others in the entertainment industry, including some embarrassing bombshells about Sony executive, movie stars and other industry insiders.
There’s a lot others can learn from Sony’s misfortune, including being extra careful about what you say in email. If Sony can be hacked, so can any company or, for that matter, any person. But you don’t have to be a hacking victim to be embarrassed by what’s in your email. There are plenty of accidental ways that email can get into the wrong hands.
I know from experience.
A number of years ago I got an upsetting email from one of my editors that I wanted to share with my wife. So I forwarded it to her with a comment about that editor. But, instead of clicking the forward button, I accidentally hit reply and the editor got my missive instead. Fortunately, he didn’t cancel my column.
My wife herself fell into another email trap a couple of years ago when she forwarded a message to our daughter Katherine and later realized that the thread (older emails shared between some of the people she was writing to) contained information about a surprise party she was throwing for Katherine. Spoiling a surprise is far from tragic, but it was a reminder of how easy it is to spill the beans by accident.
Dozens of colleagues of mine are on a list serve where we exchange emails regularly about a subject of mutual interest. One day a colleague posted a not-so-positive note about a certain member of that list that was meant for a specific person but wound up in everyone’s inbox. She had meant to simply respond to that person, but what she didn’t realize was that replying to an email from a particular person posting to the list goes to everyone — not just that person.
Several years ago, a person I know asked to use my computer to log onto his Gmail account but he forgot to log off. When I came home that night and tried to access my own Gmail, I wound up in his account. Not realizing it, I clicked on a message which turned out to be evidence that he was cheating on his wife — not something he wanted to share with me. Ever since then, I’ve been very careful to remember to log off of any mail or social media account I access from computers other than my own (even though I don’t cheat on my wife).
And, of course, anything you say can be forwarded by another person – either deliberately or accidentally – so, to paraphrase something my mother taught me, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it,.” — at least not in email.