• United States

The futility of ‘destroying’ e-mail

Jul 01, 20043 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMessaging Apps

* Reader weighs in on possibility of destroying e-mail

Many organizations view purging all e-mail as the least risky business strategy. Their thinking is that if e-mail gets destroyed it can’t come back to haunt them during legal discovery or during a regulatory audit. However, the experience of a reader of this column, a consultant with experience in e-mail security and other areas, should disabuse anyone of that notion.

Here’s what he had to say, with only very minor edits:


Having been a security manager for a Wall Street firm, I understand the desire to keep e-mail from ever seeing the light of day. Unfortunately, I think that those who try to do so are doomed to failure.

Too many people keep their ‘own’ copies of e-mail. The techies burn CDs, copy e-mail to USB fobs, e-mail copies home or even hire back-up services on their own credit card that automatically copy the stuff out. More sophisticated users set up systems that operate without intervention (e.g., every Friday copy the Outlook .pst file to one or more disks). Given the damage that losing data can cause to their career, more technically savvy users often don’t trust the corporate IT department to protect their desktops.

Less technical users aren’t zero-risk either. They just print everything in sight and take it home. I know of one non-technical CFO who had his teenaged kid run his daily carry-homes thru a high-speed scanner set up by his brother-in-law. Since money was not a particular concern for him, he had a popular software indexer running full out to give him a daily cross reference of the documents he took home. Once a week, he would print the content and bring it back to work.

I know of branch managers who set up their own LANs in ‘their’ branch office that had better equipment and procedures than the official branch hardware. When that branch went to a competitor, guess what went with them. Yup, everything important.

I am not saying that anyone would do anything dishonest, but how does the ‘purge everything’ crowd defend against something that purports to be a company e-mail? For example, what if I forge something outlandish and advance it as ‘proof’ that my boss sexually harassed me, dealt in child porn, or played the ponies with company funds?

If I was designing an e-mail system for a financial institution, I’d want all the functions of a digital notary as my mailman. If I used the e-mail system to acknowledge ‘stuff’ (e.g., policies, procedures, directives), then I’d want someone to be able to swear in court that a transgressor was informed not to do things like surf the Internet for porn, take the pencils or fondle the office mates.


What do you think? I’d like to hear your opinions on purging all e-mail or keeping it all – please drop me a line at