Is Your e-Mail Up to Code?

By Jamie Bsales | Posted December 12, 2006

For the vast majority of businesses, e-mail replaced the phone as the primary means of communications years ago. That means much crucial business intelligence, not to mention proprietary and potentially sensitive information about your products and your clients, resides in those electronic bits.

However, for most small businesses, e-mail management amounts to letting Outlook auto-archive old items to a .pst file every now and again. At best, the Exchange server that houses e-mail gets backed up to tape on an almost-regular basis. But for professionals in certain fields, or any business owner who might find himself in litigation, such a haphazard approach might not cut it.

For instance, if you received a court order to produce an e-mail thread from three years ago, could you do it? How about within three working days? And for professionals in the healthcare, legal, banking, and financial-services sectors, e-mail is off-limits for a huge swath of crucial communications, simply because it isn't secure by nature.

The regulations put forth in HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and other federal laws require that sensitive client information (medical records, social security numbers, account numbers) be kept secure. Typical e-mail correspondence is an open letter that any snooper with access to the servers where the e-mail lighted en route to its recipient can read.

But there are a host of products and services that can help you secure your e-mail and keep your company compliant in the event the law should come knocking.

Keep it Secure
"Without thinking about it, people send an awful lot of personal information on e-mail," said Champ Mitchell, chairman and CEO of NetworkSolutions. "They don't realize it can be easily accessed by others."

Professionals who routinely send contracts, product information, client information — any information you wouldn't want a competitor to see — should consider the latest offering from Network Solutions. MessageGuard ($9.95/month) is a simple plug-in that encrypts the messages and attachments you choose so only the recipient can read them. It works with Outlook and Outlook Express, or with Network Solutions' own hosted Webmail service. Just download the applet, then click the "Send Securely" button in your e-mail app (rather than the default "Send" button) and your e-mails are secured.


FileMaker Task 2.0
MessageGuard from Network Solutions is an easy way to send encrypted e-mail. Just click on the "Send Securely" button that's added to Outlook after you install the plug-in.

MessageGuard is the only domain-based e-mail security solution, meaning you can use your own e-mail address (you@yourbusiness.com), not some third-party e-mail account. Even better, your recipients can be using any e-mail system, too. If they are MessageGuard users, they will be able to automatically open your encrypted missives. If they aren't, they simply need to verify their identity and enter a password. They don't need to download anything or go through a lengthy registration procedure as required by past PKI-based offerings.

MessageGuard is HIPAA-compliant, so even medical offices can use it. It's also ideal for legal offices, mortgage brokerages, and the like. "E-mail is the most convenient way to communicate, but these professionals avoid it," says Mitchell. With MessageGuard, now they don't have to.

Can You Find It?
Another piece of the e-mail-management puzzle is proper archiving. Federal rules for civil action dictate a business must be able to produce court-requested correspondence in a timely manner, and that the way a business deals with past e-mail must be predictable and consistent. That means you can destroy your e-mail after, say, two years. But if the court comes and asks for a thread from 18 months ago, and your response is, "Umm, I can't find it. It must have been deleted," that's the wrong answer.

"You wind up being in a position of not being able to defend yourself," said Steven Berens, president and CEO of Privacy Networks. Targeted at mid-sized businesses, the company's E-mail Integrity Suite protects e-mail on all fronts. It provides anti-spam and anti-virus protection up front, encryption of company e-mail, as well as secure archiving and indexing (for e-mail auditing, legal discovery, regulatory compliance) at the end of a thread's lifecycle.

According to Berens, simply backing up your Exchange server is an inadequate solution. "You wind up with just a bit bucket. It's not readily searchable."

For example, if you back up your server e-mail files to tape monthly, and are asked by the court to provide e-mail for the past three years, that's 36 tapes you need to load, then search manually, mailbox-by-mailbox. It could amount to hundreds of man-hours. Privacy Networks' solution, available through partners as either a hosted service or as an on-site e-mail appliance, automatically produces indexed, searchable e-mail archives that are also secure from hackers.

Outsource the Headache
For a growing business the answer to e-mail management may be to let someone else do it. That's where a service provider like Everyone.net comes in. You get business-class e-mail, including remote access and push-email support for mobile devices, without the hassle of implementing or maintaining an in-house system. Everyone.net has a range of plans, from individual accounts to private-label business and ISP solutions, starting under $3 per month per user.

The company's service provides full spam and virus protection (updated hourly), and is scalable, so you don't have to worry about outgrowing it. You can use your own domain name, and business-level accounts get 1GB of e-mail storage per user, plus support for a shared address book.

Mail is hosted on Everyone.net's fault-tolerant Sun Network that the company claims offers 99.9 percent uptime. That's better than you would fare on your own. And your e-mail files are automatically backed up, so there's no worry about a hard drive crashing and wiping out your data. The company's IMAP push e-mail service lets you receive messages on a range of compatible mobile phones and devices, and keeps your mail file in sync no matter how you access your messages.

So if you're worried about a compromised in-house mail system wreaking havoc on the day-to-day operations of your business, Everyone.net is worth a look. And any of these solutions can help you secure and protect your business' valuable intellectual property, not just from potential hackers, but also from inadvertent human error within your organization.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!


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