Lessons Enterprises Can Learn from Hillary Clinton’s “Emailgate”

3 min read · 6 years ago


Imagine it’s 2009, you’ve got a new smartphone, and you’d like to use it for both personal and business email. The smartphone is a BlackBerry. Oh, and you’ve just been appointed Secretary of State for the United States. Your name is Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In 2009, the White House has standardized BlackBerrys for its smartphones. iPhones are just 2 years old and not considered business-ready or secure; whereas BlackBerrys have a solid reputation for reliable and secure delivery of email.

But there’s a catch. In 2009, BlackBerry smartphones can support only one email account at a time. If you want to send and receive both personal and business email on a BlackBerry in 2009, you have two choices.

You can carry two BlackBerrys, one for business use and one for personal use. That’s workable, but might be a bit of a hassle. (Which one is ringing? Did I collect both at the end of a meeting?)

Your other choice is to set up a personal email server with a personal email address, and use it to funnel all your business and personal email. You might intend to back up or copy all your business email, as required by law, eventually. For now, though, you enjoy the convenience of carrying just one smartphone and getting all the email, personal and business-related, you want.

Hillary Clinton decided to follow the second strategy in 2009, and breaking news of that decision has not gone over well in 2015 as Clinton gears up her campaign for the 2016 presidential election. She remains the Democratic front-runner, but many politicians, media analysts, and voters are not pleased that she put important State Department communications potentially outside the purview of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and other types of review and inquiry. One tracking poll found her support dropped 15% among Democrats, once the story broke.

“When I got to work as Secretary of State, I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two,” Clinton explained at a press conference in early March.

Over time, Clinton became more comfortable juggling multiple mobile devices. In February of this year, perhaps to polish her tech credentials, she told an audience in Silicon Valley that she now carries two smartphones and two tablets. “I have an iPad, a mini-iPad, an iPhone and a BlackBerry,” she said.

Lessons for Today’s Enterprises

Smartphones have evolved beyond the BlackBerrys that were available in 2009. Any popular model of smartphone or tablet lets users configure more than email account.

Nonetheless, the saga of Hillary Clinton’s BlackBerry and private email server offers important lessons for enterprises today.

  • First, no matter what device they have to carry for work, employees want access to personal email and apps.
  • To get that access, employees are willing to bend rules.
  • Strict security policies can backfire. Some organizations want mobile devices like BlackBerrys to carry only business content in order to minimize security threats, such as malware and phishing attacks. But if users can carry only one device, they will find a way to mix personal content with business content. Perhaps a few of them will set up a personal email server as Clinton did. Most are likely turn to public-cloud services such as Dropbox and Gmail, which are popular now but were difficult to access on BlackBerrys in 2009.
  • Hillary isn’t alone in becoming comfortable with multiple mobile devices. The typical mobile worker now carries a smartphone, a tablet, and a laptop. Any IT strategy that predicates security on standardizing on a single device is likely to fail. On the contrary, security policies and solutions should aim for securing content and services on whatever combination of mobile devices employees are carrying.
  • Organizations should assume that employees will access email, apps, and Web sites from whatever mobile device they happen to be carrying, and that employees’ mobile devices will be storing and transmitting a mix of personal and business content. This mixed-use, multiple-platform computing is the new “IT terrain” that must be secured—and secured in a way that does not tempt employees to seek risky work-arounds. That security should protect business content and services from unauthorized access, malware, and myriad other threats in today’s fast-evolving world of mobile computing.

This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community: Lessons Enterprises Can Learn from Hillary Clinton’s “Emailgate”

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