Auto-Deleting Emails: The Next Hot Feature?

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The ability to archive and search through email is a valuable business tool: Who hasn’t cycled back through a year’s worth of messages to find an important piece of data?

But email, despite all its obvious value, also has a downside: If unauthorized users gain access to the server holding all those messages, they can quickly learn your secrets. Just look at what happened to Sony after a few determined hackers penetrated its IT security: Not only did a trove of movie scripts and budget data end up in the open, but so did several embarrassing emails between company executives.

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The high-profile hacks of the past two years have driven companies and individuals into the arms of IT vendors promising the latest in encryption—and deletion. Wickr, Frankly, Leo, Silent Circle, and other companies offer the ability to send messages to colleagues that self-destruct after a certain period of time; some startups even rely on the ever-popular Snapchat, which doesn’t bill itself as an enterprise-grade product.

Disappearing texts aside, what should be done about email, whose permanence is often viewed as a feature, as opposed to a threat? Startups such as Confide are figuring out how to marry the best of email—address books, storage, and so on—with the auto-deletion sparking so many firms’ interest these days. But emails that vaporize after a set period of time wouldn’t solve the security problems for law firms, healthcare conglomerates, and other companies that are required by law to save pretty much everything that hits their servers.

For many companies that can’t delete anything, the answer (at least for the moment) is a simple one: Maintain the latest IT security practices, educate your people in how to avoid phishing attempts… and hope for the best. Easier said than done, of course, but anything that lowers the chances of a hacking is probably worth doing.

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