Hillary Clinton has found herself in hot water for using a personal email account for work messaging while she was Secretary of State.
Most Americans aren’t communicating about matters of national security, harboring presidential ambitions, or using their own private servers. But with digital devices increasingly blurring the lines between home and office life, it’s all too tempting to shoot off emails from a personal email account while at the office or while using a company computer.
Experts say that can be a huge mistake. “You would never mix your personal bank account with the business bank account. This is just as obvious a ‘no-no,’” says Karen Friedman, a business communications coach in the Philadelphia area.
Here’s what you need to know about this important issue.
1. You have no privacy at work.
Your employer can access any information you send or receive over the company’s server, no matter whether it’s sent via your personal email address or your work account. Even if you’re careful not to send off-color jokes or personal information from work, you may have less control over something sent to your account by a friend, lawyer, or doctor.
Many companies’ IT systems are set up to flag inappropriate content that could bring you or your company unwanted attention. “Your boss doesn’t want to spy on you,” says Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute. “But your boss doesn’t care enough about your privacy to pay for and create a program that protects it.”
2. Keep your personal phone off the company network.
If you do need to send a personal message while you’re at work, it’s safe to do so via your smartphone as long as that phone is not using the office wi-fi. One option is to set up a personal hotspot, which turns your mobile device into a wireless access point. Check prices and access details with your service provider.
“Keeping your work phone separate protects anything on it if you or the company is involved in a legal matter,” says Jennifer Lee Magas, an employment lawyer and business writing professor based in Fairfield County, Connecticut.
If you use your personal phone for work, take a close look at the company’s “bring your own device” policy, if one exists. Under some policies, your company may be able to wipe all data, including contacts, music and pictures, from your phone if your employer thinks the phone has been compromised for some reason or if you leave the company.
3. Your personal account is not as secure.
Sometimes workers will send documents from their work email to a personal account for use at home or easy access. Once those files hit the cloud, they become far more susceptible to hackers. “Any work files you send or receive from your personal email are at a greater riskof being compromised or stolen,” says Cynthia Augello, a partner with New York law firm Cullen and Dykman.
Your company IT department probably has anti-virus software set up to protect the company network and your computer from cyber attacks. Still, you certainly don’t want to be the worker who opened a Yahoo email, clicked on a risky attachment by mistake – and brought down the entire server.
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