Beef Up Your Practice’s Email Security

Robert Patrick

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Online security best practices are familiar subjects for most people. General tips include changing your password for key sites every few months, not using the same password for different logins, and not using a personal email account as your business email. Exchanging financial information, banking information, or pass codes with anyone is beyond risky, especially if you’re doing it without encrypting the data being shared. 

But the sharing of this information happens—frequently, and with ease—because doing so is so easy. A few taps or a right click-paste, and information is quickly imported into an email message for quick submission. For some perspective, let’s take a trip back 30 years, when the idea of email was being perfected at IBM. 

In the early 1980s, IBM deployed an internal email system and began by measuring employee communication so it could estimate how many messages would be sent on the new system. Based on this research, IBM provisioned a $10 million mainframe to run its email server—a level of processing power that should have easily handled the typical volume of intra-office interaction based on the company’s measurements.

Within a week, the new machine was overwhelmed.

The IBM email team gravely underestimated the load. Instead of employees simply transferring their normal offline communication to the more convenient online system, they began to communicate vastly more than they ever had before. In a mere week or so, IBM gained an understanding of the potential productivity gain of email. 

Email’s Enduring Popularity 

Email remains the most popular communication channel for businesses despite multiple claims that it is dying. It’s not. Worldwide email use continues to grow at a healthy pace. In 2015, the number of worldwide email users was more than 2.6 billion. By the end of 2019, it’s expected to increase to more than 2.9 billion, according to the Radicati Group.  

In 2015, the number of emails sent and received per day totaled more than 205 billion. This number is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 3% through 2019, reaching more than 246 billion by the end of next year. Also in 2015, the number of business emails sent and received per user per day totaled 122 and is expected to increase to 126 by the end of 2019.   

Email usage continues to grow in the business world, as it does for consumers. Despite its continued growth, email should be treated as the electronic equivalent of sending a postcard through snail mail in terms of information security. The ability to more easily connect with people around the world means there are always going to be hackers and malicious foes on the web who want to exploit this technology for personal gain. Thankfully, there are also simple ways to stop them from doing so. 

Phishing and Malware 

Spammers and business foes want access to your data. They use a variety of techniques, like keylogging Trojans, phishing emails, or links to malicious websites, to steal sensitive business and account information, credit card information, patient diagnosis, and personal contact information.

According to FireEye researchers and Healthcare IT News, one in every hundred emails sent around the globe has malicious intent, meaning that phishing remains one of the biggest cyber threats to every organization. They also note that organizations can, in fact, limit the impact of a phishing attack by using a proxy server to prevent access to known malicious sites.

It’s understood that you went to school to provide oral healthcare, not manage an IT infrastructure, so you might want to consider looking for a reputable IT vendor to help address security concerns and recommend tools for your practice. You should ask about email services that filter and stop malware and spam from arriving in your inbox. Ask about solutions that can also prevent the harvesting of email addresses. These types of tools provide you with protected inboxes and can reduce the likelihood you’ll be affected by malicious attacks.

Speaking of attacks, new viruses and malware are constantly being developed. As a result, the distribution of malicious software is growing more complex, meaning even internal emails can be susceptible to malware. Most malware comes from external sources, but if an employee’s machine becomes infected, that employee can share a virus through his or her personal or professional email address without knowing it.

Malware can spread because people are more likely to click on a link from someone they know than from someone they don’t. Therefore, everyone needs to be wary of links in email messages even if a message is coming from someone they are familiar with. Even if a link seems legitimate, check for misspellings or typos and incorrect grammar (though grammar alone is not necessarily an issue). Spoofing scams like these can be signs of malicious activities knocking at your technology door. 

Train Your Employees 

A good place to start training your practice’s employees on email security may be to have them read this article, but there is more to consider. Most of what follows is common sense, but that can truly be enough to avoid such problems: 

  • Establish an email policy so employees know what to do and what not to do.
  • Do not click on links or open attachments from unknown senders. 
  • Don’t respond to a spam email, as a response verifies your email address, and spammers will continue bothering you once they know your email is real.
  • If an email is from a known sender, verify it came from that person and double check the spelling or naming of included links or attachments

Test your efforts by sending a fake phishing email to your team and see who clicks on it. That can be an effective way to make sure everyone is applying their training and staying vigilant. 

Encrypt Your Emails 

Effort must be taken to protect the information you are including in your email messages. Encryption can prevent hackers from intercepting and reading the emails you send. It also ensures that the only eyes seeing your messages are those of your intended recipient. 

Through encryption, a minor and simple add-on to your current email service, you can maintain the convenience of sharing data with colleagues and patients while keeping the information inside your messages secure. 

Because sharing electronic patient information can be a necessity in a busy dental practice, using email to do so remains a crucial communications tool. As long as you use encryption to keep patient and practice data safe in the process, the benefits of email can be profound.  

Mr. Patrick is president of dental at Vyne. NEA Powered by Vyne, a division of Vyne, has partnered with dental practices for more than two decades. In that time, NEA has exchanged more than 1 billion electronic attachments of more than 60,000 dental practice offices to more than 750 dental plans and payers.

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