Canada: Cyber Liability Series: E-Mail Security

Last Updated: June 15 2016
Article by Laura Emmett

On November 24, 2014, a group of hackers, who identified themselves as the Guardians of Peace, breached the cyber security system of the film studio, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and released an estimated 38 million confidential documents. This breach resulted in the disclosure of highly sensitive information, such as employees' salaries, employees' job performance, and employees' identification information (including bank account and social security numbers). In addition to the breach of employee privacy, the incident evolved into an all-out international crisis, with threats being made regarding the safety of American citizens.

A lengthy investigation was undertaken to determine the source of the breach. It was determined that three days prior to the breach, several Sony executives received an e-mail from a group demanding monetary compensation and threatening repercussions if Sony Pictures did not comply. It is believed that since Sony did not accede to these threats, the company was hacked. Although the cause of the breach has not been publicly confirmed, it has been theorized that the hackers were able to infiltrate Sony's once seemingly impenetrable information security system, through the use of the several phishing e-mails.

A phishing e-mail is a specific type of spam that targets a person by simulating a legitimate message from a bank, government department or some other organization, in an attempt to get the individual to give up confidential information that could be used to gain access to their personal accounts. In Sony's case, investigators found a pattern with repeated phishing e-mails being sent that were fake Apple ID verification requests that asked the individual to sign into their account.

These types of messages are often very deceiving, and will usually include some form of good news to provide further encouragement for the receiver of the e-mail to trust the sender and follow the instructions in the e-mail. Often, these e-mails also attempt to incite fear, such as stating that an account has been hacked and requesting the individual to sign into their account to rectify the issue. The messages are often close depictions of common emails sent from the real organization. In many cases, the messages include logos, fonts, and similar colours to the legitimate organization. Almost always, the e-mail will include a website URL, which the individual is told to click on to take them to the organization's website. The website will closely mimic the real organization's website and require the individual to provide their confidential information by signing into the account. At this point, the individual has disclosed their login information and has become a sitting duck for the breach of their cyber security.

The Sony incident serves as an important reminder that e-mail can present a significant vulnerability in a company's cyber security system. Reinforcing this concern, a recent study found that employee targeted phishing attacks increased 55% over 2015. Therefore, it is imperative that a company take pre-emptive measures to ensure that proper software is in place to prevent access to confidential information through e-mail. More importantly, it is vital that employees receive proper training on the use of e-mail in the course of their employment.

To prevent harmful e-mails from reaching employees, a company should implement a spam filter. The spam filter will reduce the risk exposure for an organization by minimizing the number of e-mails received by an employee and decreasing the chance that an employee accidentally opens a harmful email. In addition, employees should be made aware of, and have access to, a guide outlining steps that should be taken when an employee receives a suspicious e-mail or an e-mail from an unknown sender. A company should also enforce strict password standards for all e-mail accounts associated with work. Finally, a company should use generic e-mail addresses when providing the address in a public forum (such as on their website) under the "contact us" section. This will help reduce the possibility of employees being targeted by outside parties, as their e-mail addresses will not be easily accessible.

Phishing and spam are two issues associated with incoming e-mail. However, there is equal risk presented to a company's security where sensitive information is shared in an outgoing e-mail. If transmitting or communicating sensitive information, companies should consider whether e-mail is the most secure forum. When Sony's information security system was hacked, all outgoing e-mails were accessible, which meant that any private information contained in those e-mails was accessible as well. As a result, not only did Sony have to deal with issues of breach of privacy, they also had to deal with reputational issues, as several e-mails where inappropriate comments were made by an executive, were released by the hackers to the public.

Sony's cyber security breach provides an invaluable lesson about the importance of having proper safeguards in place regarding the use of e-mail. Companies should have an accessible policy in place outlining what is appropriate to send through e-mail and strict consequences for those who do not adhere to the policy. Companies need to ensure that employees understand the severity of the consequences that inappropriate e-mails can have, as once an e-mail is drafted and sent; the comments exist indefinitely. Additionally, companies should have proper procedures in place for when an employee receives an abnormal e-mail or doesn't recognize the sender. Proper IT support should be in place so that employees have access to an immediate resource and the problem can be dealt with before it has devastating effects.

Overall, companies need to ensure that their employees receive proper training regarding the use of e-mail in the course of their employment. If an employee opens a phishing e-mail, it can (1) slow down the company's networks, servers and computers; (2) increase the company's costs while reducing its productivity; and (3) ultimately result in the breach of information security. It is equally important that companies provide adequate training on outgoing e-mail procedures as well, since employees need to always consider the content of their correspondence and whether there is a risk that confidential information could be breached if transmitted through e-mail.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Laura Emmett
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.