E-mail retention policies, Part 2

* Tips for defining e-mail retention policies

In the previous column, my friend and colleague Prof. Don Holden, MBA, CISSP-ISSMP, and I reviewed some of the issues arising from pre-trial discovery orders involving stored e-mail and e-mail archives.

As we looked through several articles on the subject and thought about the issues, we put together the following list of practical pointers for readers:

* Define, enforce and update formal retention policies that stipulate how long to keep archives of which types of data. Ensure that your legal counsel is deeply involved in setting these policies.

* Access to archived records should be completed within, at most, 48 hours to avoid possible fines.

* Deleting e-mail and other records that show evidence of wrongdoing may lead to worse legal and public-relations consequences than coming clean.

* Unscheduled deletion of e-mail may destroy exculpatory evidence or lead to a tacit presumption of guilt.

* E-mail archives on servers must be safeguarded against any modification that could distort the record and lead to prosecution for tampering with evidence. Chained checksums or digital signatures involving timestamps can reveal such tampering.

* Metadata are the data about your data, such as log files showing who accessed or modified files or records. Metadata are increasingly being seized in discovery as well and must be maintained properly.

* Tools that scrub metadata for security purposes can also be used to hide legitimate audit trails and need to be controlled or monitored. Examples include destruction of the track-changes records in word-processing and spreadsheet files known to be significant in a legal discovery process or deliberate copy/paste operations from a source that included an audit trail into plain-text format. No employee should be destroying data in this way when a subpoena or other discovery process is in force; data security policies should make such restrictions explicit.

* Ensure that you know exactly what is on each backup medium and where it is stored. Use appropriate software to catalog your backup media. Stored media must be kept in secured facilities with chain-of-custody records that ensure that the organization can report exactly who accessed which media at any time.

* Disaster-recovery media may be required under subpoena just as regular backup media are; be sure to include them in your catalogs and access lists.

* Think carefully about whether to allow employees to store corporate e-mail on external servers such as those of Gmail. For example, should employees be allowed to auto-forward corporate e-mail to such a private account? Corporate network administrators are unlikely to be able to access the stored e-mail on an employee’s private account; furthermore, e-mail stored on a server of this sort could be made available to law-enforcement authorities without a warrant after 180 days.

The files could even be transferred to another owner if Google decided to sell its e-mail services. In addition, the privacy policy explicitly warns, “Residual copies of deleted messages and accounts may take up to 60 days to be deleted from our active servers and may remain in our offline backup systems.”

* * *

For Further Reading

Anonymous (2006). Developing retention policies. _eMag Link_ ; by mid-2007, the URL will likely be converted to this.

Freeman, E. H. (2006). Gmail and privacy issues. _EDPACS: The EDP Audit, Control & Security Newsletter_ (August 2006) 34(2):15

Metadata emerging as a vital component of e-discovery. _eMag Link_

Chen, P. (2006). E-mail archiving: Understanding the reasons, risks, and rewards. _EDPACS: The EDP Audit, Control & Security Newsletter_ (April 2006) 33(10):1


Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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