Email Etiquette: Lessons from the Sony hack


This past month Sony Entertainment was hit with a massive hack from a group called the “Guardians of Peace” or #GOP. The #GOP recently released the first of a large number of internal documents and emails from Sony employees and executives.

Unfortunately for Sony, the leaked emails do not paint a flattering picture. The emails shine a light onto the sometimes-shady inner workings of a large entertainment company and removes the veneer of glitz and glamour that Hollywood public relations departments work so hard to maintain. The leaked emails show that Sony executives wrote emails to one another disparaging famous actors and writers, emails that contained racist comments about President Obama, and emails that referenced plans to pay off state attorney generals to encourage them to bring lawsuits against Google.

Embarrassing emails from highly paid executives may cause damage to the Sony brand and is fodder for Internet gossip. Unfortunately for the regular Sony employee, the email leaks reveal sensitive and personal information that can cause a great amount of individual suffering and embarrassment.


“The most painful stuff in the Sony cache is a doctor shopping for Ritalin. It’s an email about trying to get pregnant. It’s s***-talking coworkers behind their backs, and people’s credit card log-ins. It’s literally thousands of Social Security numbers laid bare. It’s even the harmless, mundane, trivial stuff that makes up any day’s email load that suddenly feels ugly and raw out in the open, a digital Babadook brought to life by a scorched earth cyberattack.”

These employees are at great risk for identity theft, medical and financial fraud, damage to their reputation, and the possible loss of future employment opportunities.

Lesson 1: Emails are never private

Once you send an email you no longer have control over its contents. There is nothing stopping the recipient from forwarding your email to others. ISPs and companies like Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo routinely scan and read customers’ emails for marketing and advertising purposes. Criminals using malware and phishing schemes could intercept your email and use it to commit fraud or other crimes. There are many ways your email could become exposed.

Always assume that what you write in email may become public.

Lesson 2: Don’t badmouth your coworkers

See Lesson 1. There is no guarantee that the contents of your email will stay private. Maintaining healthy business relationships is a key component for success in any profession. If word gets out that you talk about people behind their backs it will hinder your ability to collaborate successfully with your coworkers and future business interactions may be in jeopardy.

Even if the emails are not malicious in nature they could be taken out of context leading to misunderstandings. You cannot control how others will react to your leaked emails. “Information doesn’t have to be incriminating to be embarrassing; it doesn’t need intent to be cruel.”

Lesson 3: Keep work and personal emails separate

See Lesson 1 and 2. Many Sony employees used their corporate email for personal interactions. It is likely they did not think that the contents of their email would end up on the Internet. In many industries, such as finance, companies routinely search through employees’ email for signs of fraud and other criminal or insider activity, but they can read or use anything sent over company email servers. Organizations may have to turn over email as part of a civil or criminal subpoena or in response to open access laws. In these instances even if you have nothing criminal to hide, your personal communication could be read by others and possibly read aloud into the public court records.

Always use a non-work-related account for personal emails.

Lesson 4: Speak in person or use the phone

If this leak produces a teachable moment it is to take a moment to decide whether it’s better to talk in person or over the phone rather than to use email. Email does not communicate nuance, tone, or body language like a face to face conversation. This is especially true if the topic is sensitive or is related to personal matters such as health or personal finance. An in-person conversation offers a better opportunity for clear and meaningful communications and, unless you have eavesdroppers nearby, you can better control who hears your message.

Related Links:

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JPMorgan Chase and 9 Other Financial Institutions Hacked

JPMorgan Chase and nine other yet to be named financial institutions suffered a massive data breach targeting both individuals and businesses.   The attackers were able to steal client names, addresses, email, and phone numbers.  JPMorgan states that no financial and login information was compromised.

Clients are advised to watch out for phishing scams within the next couple of months.  It has been reported by the security company SANS that some customers are already receiving phishing SMS / text messages.

JPMorgan Chase suggest:

  • Users watch their accounts for suspicious activity
  • Change their account password
  • Do not reuse the same password for multiple accounts
  • Watch out for phishing emails

If you receive an email that asks for your login or other personal information call the company directly to verify the email.  Do not respond or click on any links in the email. Do not log into your bank account from a link in the email; type in the bank url directly into the web browser.

Do not respond or click on any links in unsolicited text messages from your financial institution.  Call the company directly to verify the contents of the text message.

Other Links:

NYTimes: Hackers’ Attack Cracked 10 Financial Firms in Major Assault.

Computerworld: JPMorgan Chase attackers hit other banks


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NU users upgrade to OS X Mavericks for Free

Apple has not provided the Shellshock patch for versions of OS X older than Lion.  If you have an older version of OS X and would like to upgrade to Mavericks the Service Desk will be able to assist you.   Depending on your current hardware you may be able to upgrade to Mavericks for free.   The Service Desk will assist in evaluating your hardware, backing up and restoring your data and installing the update.

Please contact the Service Desk for assistance.  617-373-4357 or

If your hardware does not support OS X Lion and above, Apple states that your risk from the Shellshock bug is low if you have not installed a web server on your computer. Should Apple release a Shellshock patch for older Macs, users are advised to update once it is made available.

Information about Shellshock: SecureNU Shellshock Bash bug Information

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Apple Releases Shellshock Patch

Apple has released a patch to fix Shellshock Bash bug vulnerabilities.  Its is strongly recommended Mac users install the update when it becomes available through Software Update.

Northeastern managed Macs will be updated automatically with the patch.

For additional information: Shellshock Bash bug and the Apple update.

Note: This initial patch from Apple only fixes 2 of the 6 reported Shellshock vulnerabilities and only applies to Lion, Mountain Lion, and Mavericks.   Users are should apply additional updates should they be made available from Apple. 

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ALERT: Mac, Linux, And Unix Users Impacted By Security Vulnerability “Shellshock”

For updated Shellshock Information: SecureNU – Shellshock Bash bug Information

This week security experts discovered an extensive security flaw in Bash, a component used in Linux and Unix operating systems, including Mac OS X. This vulnerability, nicknamed Shellshock, makes  devices running Bash susceptible to hackers and worms. Several technology manufacturers have already released preliminary patches to help stop this issue.

What is Shellshock?

Bash is a program that typically runs in the background so many users are likely not aware of its existence on their devices, although it is used in several different operating systems. The security vulnerability makes it possible to add malicious code to existing Bash code, allowing hackers to take over the operating system, where they can extract important information and compromise the device. Shellshock has the potential to be a greater security risk than the Heartbleed bug, as there are a wide variety of systems that utilize Bash, and this vulnerability is easy to exploit.

What can we do to protect ourselves?

Preliminary patches are now available for several of the impacted operating systems. ITS strongly recommends that you update any Mac OS X, Linux and Unix operating systems once security patches are available. Please be aware that external websites may be impacted by this vulnerability, and if compromised, there is the possibility of worms being transmitted to your computer. Please note that over time more and more information is being discovered regarding the extent and impact of this bug.

What is ITS doing to protect Northeastern?

To reduce our risk internally, ITS immediately began working on updating all of Northeastern’s technology with the available patches, and will continue to do so as new ones are released, limiting the exposure of campus systems. Additionally we have hardened our firewall against this vulnerability. System administrators across the university are working now to apply necessary patches to impacted sites and services. ITS will continue to monitor the situation, assess the associated risks and provide updates on this security issue as more news of Shellshock becomes available. We are continuing to work with our partner providers and vendors to address this serious security concern. As this is a constantly evaluating situation, information and updates will continue to be posted on the Office of Information Security website.

Other Security Concerns – Phishing

In the coming weeks, it is vitally important that you have a heightened awareness regarding your security. Hackers and Internet criminals never pass up a good crisis. Expect to see spam and phishing emails in the future citing security concerns due to Shellshock. If you have any doubts about the validity of emails, contact the company in question by phone. For Northeastern-specific emails contact the ITS Service Desk.


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4.5M and 1.2M Yandex Accounts Leaked; But Do Not Worry

On Tuesday an unknown individual posted a file containing 4.5 million and 1.2 million Yandex addresses and passwords to a Russian bulletin board. Both and Yandex deny the passwords came from their systems; it is believed the list has been compiled from hacked websites and phishing emails.

Regardless of where passwords came from both and Yandex state that only a small percentage of the accounts in the list might have worked. Independent reports state that the passwords are old and probably not even for valid or Yandex accounts.

What should you do?

If your or password has not changed recently, now is a good time to change it.

As always, do not use the same email address and password for different website accounts. If one website is hacked, the attackers will be able to gain access to your other website accounts as well.

More information:
Business Insider:

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5 Million Gmail Passwords Leaked; But Do Not Worry


On Tuesday an unknown individual posted a file containing 5 million Gmail addresses and passwords to a Russian bulletin board. Google denies the passwords came from their systems; it is believed the list has been compiled from hacked websites and phishing emails.

Regardless of where passwords came from Google says that only about 2% of the accounts in the list might have worked. Independent reports state that the passwords are old and probably not even for Gmail accounts.

What should you do?

If your Gmail password has not changed recently, now is a good time to change it. For added protection enable 2-Step Verification on your account. 2-Step Verification requires you to enter a code the first time you access your account from a new computer or phone. This prevents a third party who may know your password from gaining access to your account.

Here is more information on how to enable 2-Step Verification on your Gmail account:

As always, do not use the same email address and password for different website accounts. If one website is hacked, the attackers will be able to gain access to your other website accounts as well.

More information:

Forbes: Google Says Not To Worry About 5 Million ‘Gmail Passwords’ Leaked

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Get Anti-Virus Software FREE!

Welcome Students!

The new school year brings new virus and malware threats to your Mac and Windows computers. The ResNet Resource Center has a stack of Apples and PCs that are infected with viruses. Long gone are the days when Apple users are immune from viruses and malware. The viruses today attack both Macs and Windows with equal success and damage.

The only way to help protect your computer is to install anti-virus software. Fortunately Northeastern offers Symantec Endpoint Protection (anti-virus) for both Mac and Windows for FREE!

Download Symantec Endpoint Protection FREE today!

Why should you install anti-virus software?

The viruses today are much more dangerous than in the past; and may cause much irreversible damage such as:

  • Stealing your email password and hijacking your account
  • Stealing your social media passwords and hijacking your accounts
  • Stealing your personal information and photos
  • Encrypting and holding all your data hostage
  • Corrupting your operating system, making your computer unusable
  • Hijacking your computer to make it part of an international crime bot-net (not as cool as it sounds)

Wiping the computer and reinstalling the operating system from scratch is often the only way to remove the viruses. Do not be left without a computer or your data. Get FREE anti-virus software to help keep your computer safe and secure.

Contact the Service Desk at x4357 or the ResNet Resource Center for assistance.

Image credit: IntelFreePress, on Flickr

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