Introduction to Email Compliance for Business Communications

Introduction to Email Compliance for Business Communications

Looking for email compliance requirements for business emails? With violations costing thousands, understanding the compliance requirements can only help in the long run.

Organizations demonstrate email compliance when their emails meet specific regulations and requirements set by governments and industries that protect the privacy and data of individuals.

What Is Email Compliance?

Email compliance pertains to the ways a business adheres to the laws and guidelines related to email communications. It involves following various data protection and anti-spam standards to ensure the safety, security, and privacy of emails sent and received. Email compliance ensures that a business is meeting the requirements set in place by relevant regulations such as CAN-SPAM, GDPR, HIPAA, and many other data privacy regulations.

What Is Security and Privacy Compliance for Email?

Email is, by far, the most common form of communication for businesses. It’s fast, convenient, and essentially free. Email is efficient, which fuels productivity and, ideally, company growth. Email, despite these attributes, does have a key limitation. First and foremost, email is not secure. Anyone can read it, not just the intended recipient. IT departments, law enforcement agencies, hackers, and even someone who finds a phone in the back of a cab can read messages not intended for them.

Data privacy regulations like GDPR and HIPAA, designed to protect Personally Identifiable Information (PII) or Personal Health Information (PHI), typically prohibit companies from using mail to share someone’s personal data without proper encryption or other protections in place, like access controls, data retention, auditable log files, and reporting features.

If you don’t have these technologies (and/or processes for using these technologies), you are most likely noncompliant. This is especially problematic when you’re handling and sharing data belonging to EU residents. GDPR fines can be extremely costly to your business and your reputation. Ultimately, you are 100% responsible for compliance when using email; ignore these requirements at your own peril.

Email Compliance Challenges

Organizations face multiple challenges when it comes to email compliance. One of the biggest challenges is the sheer volume of emails that employees send and receive every day. With so many emails being exchanged, it becomes difficult for organizations to keep track of every message, including any file attachment(s), and ensure that they are all compliant with the relevant regulations.

As a result, businesses are also challenged with ensuring adequate employee education and training. Many employees might not be aware of email compliance requirements and may inadvertently expose the organization to data leaks, which can expose the business to legal and financial risks. Additionally, the ever-evolving regulations and laws regarding email compliance make it challenging for organizations and their employees to stay up to date to ensure compliance.

The rise of remote work and the use of personal devices adds another layer of complexity to email compliance, as organizations struggle to control and secure the flow of data.

Email as the Cause of Potential Compliance Issues

Email has been an amazing communication tool for businesses for decades, but it can also create serious compliance issues. While email can be used to easily communicate confidential or sensitive information, it can cause issues if the senders do not comply with applicable laws, regulations, or industry standards. For example, improper use of email, such as failing to encrypt sensitive content, can be seen as a violation of compliance laws. Email can lead to other issues too, like sending inappropriate content or messages, or using it to harass employees. All of these types of activities can lead to compliance-related issues and potential penalties. Therefore, it is important for businesses to be aware of the potential compliance issues and take the necessary steps to ensure that emails are used correctly.

Email Compliance: A Moving Target

Email compliance is a moving target because email laws, regulations, and best practices are constantly evolving, as new technologies emerge and new threats to data privacy and security are identified. For example, compliance regulations like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the United States’ California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) have introduced new requirements for email communication, such as obtaining explicit consent from users before collecting and using their data for marketing purposes. In addition, new threats such as phishing attacks, ransomware, and other forms of cybercrime require organizations to constantly update their email security measures and compliance policies. As a result, staying compliant with email regulations requires ongoing vigilance and adaptation to changing circumstances.

Who Is Responsible for Email Security Compliance in Your Business?

Email security compliance is the responsibility of everyone in the business, from the CEO to the IT team to the new events coordinator. It’s the responsibility of those in charge of the business to ensure that email security is properly managed and adequate measures are taken to protect against misuse or unauthorized access.

The IT team is responsible for maintaining and managing the servers, emails, and other software used to send and receive emails. They should install and regularly update antivirus, anti-malware, and email filters and other security measures. They should also ensure that users take proper precautions when sending and receiving emails, such as using two-step authentication and other forms of encryption.

The legal department is responsible for ensuring that the use of emails complies with both internal and external regulations and laws in their region. This includes ensuring that emails are not used for inappropriate purposes such as discrimination or harassment, or for sending confidential information.

Finally, it’s the responsibility of all employees to be aware of the risks of email security and to ensure that they take proper precautions when sending or receiving emails. They should make sure that they only send and receive emails from trusted sources and to never open emails with suspicious links or attachments. Employees should also use two-step authentication and other forms of encryption to ensure that their emails are kept secure.

Email Compliance Laws and Regulatory Bodies

Different data privacy regulations focus on different aspects of communication:

  • HIPAA/SOC 2/FedRAMP/PCI DSS: If you operate in or serve an industry that handles either PII or PHI, your regulatory obligations are centered on protecting private data and maintaining confidentiality. This includes a variety of security and reporting controls to maintain email privacy laws. In areas like healthcare (HIPAA), payment processing (PCI DSS), or federal government or government contracting work (FedRAMP), the data security requirements are so rigorous that it typically isn’t worthwhile to send information via email unless you are doing it through links to secure servers.
  • GDPR: The European Union’s information security framework is rather onerous and includes additional rules for email marketing and spam. GDPR designates EU residents as owners of their data, not the companies that hold their data. As a result, companies must obtain opt-in consent from a data owner before engaging in marketing activities and must keep records of that consent. Companies must also hand over or delete an EU resident’s data from their system upon the data owner’s request. Finally, a company must maintain a high level of IT security and employ confidentiality safeguards across all communications, audit logs, and reports.
  • CAN-SPAM: The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act is similar to GDPR in that it sets the guidelines by which businesses can engage in email marketing. There are, however, important differences. Unlike GDPR’s opt-in consent requirement, businesses don’t require consent before sending a message. Recipients must opt out. Penalties enforced by the FTC can be up to $16,000 per mail with no cap on the number of infractions. Additionally, it doesn’t include the same level of security requirements about deleting consumer data. Businesses sending marketing emails, however, still must protect a recipient’s private data.
  • Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) was created in 2014 to “reinforce best practices in email marketing and combat spam and related issues.” The legislation regulates the abuse of spam similar to GDPR and CAN-SPAM, but implements much more specific and stringent requirements for marketing. Individuals must, for example, consent to receive marketing emails. “Consent” is differentiated as either implied or explicit, and marketers must send a one-time double opt-in request to subscribers whose consent has not been explicitly granted. A single CASL violation can cost a business CA$10 million per violation and can also cost an individual up to CA$1 million per violation.
  • The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is a marketing and privacy law for companies doing business in California. It contains many of the same features as GDPR, including the right to delete personal information and the right to know what customer information a company has. Unlike GDPR, CCPA includes an opt-out clause rather than an opt-in. Penalties extend from unintentional breaches ($2,500 per unintentional violation) and intentional violations ($7,500 per intentional violation).

Get the Basics of Email Compliance Right

There are several layers of responsibility and accountability, as these regulations illustrate, and they vary on how an email is used. Generally, your obligations for compliance—whether for direct contact or marketing purposes—will span several conditions. You must do the following:

  • Protect Private Information: PII or PHI is, in most data privacy regulations, protected data. The data must therefore remain secure and confidential whether at rest or in transit. All email messages containing PII or PHI should be encrypted or include a secure link that requires recipient authentication to access.
  • Document and Report Interactions: Most, if not all, data privacy regulations require some sort of documentation and auditing if for no other reason than to show that you are meeting consumer data privacy obligations. Once again, for GDPR, you must also demonstrate that you have gained consent for marketing and have complied with any request to delete consumer information.
  • Properly Disclose Data: You must protect customers but also maintain control over how that information is disclosed to others. It’s impossible, for example, to send clear text messages or emails through public providers and keep data private (even with encryption in place). This is why some platforms include another mechanism alongside mail to provide control over potential unauthorized disclosure.
  • Retain Documents: Some regulations, like HIPAA, require you to retain certain documents for certain periods of time (dictated by individual states and type of document). If you communicate with patients, you may need to retain those communications, which means your server should have that capability.

This requirement isn’t exclusive to HIPAA. Different industries call for different lengths of retention for important documents:

Types of Records Years Required to Retain Documents
Taxes 7 Years
Publicly-traded Companies 7 Years
Education 5 Years
Finance (Banking) 5 Years
Investment and Brokerage 7 Years
Healthcare 7 Years
Drugs and Pharmaceuticals 2 Years
Department of Defense 3 Years
Credit Card Providers 1 Year
Telecommunications 2 Years

Who you send emails to and what content they contain will determine the level of compliance you must achieve. Compliance, as you have seen, can get complex and requires a comprehensive and secure solution.

Email Archiving for Compliance: Why It Matters

Email archiving is the process of preserving and storing emails and electronic communications in a secure and easily retrievable format. This involves creating a backup of all incoming, outgoing, and internal emails sent and received by an organization, and then storing them in a secure location for future reference or legal compliance.

The archiving process involves capturing email traffic as it flows through an email system and storing it in a searchable database. Archiving solutions can be either hardware-based or software-based and can be deployed on-premises or in the cloud.

Email archiving serves several purposes. It helps organizations maintain compliance with regulations that require the preservation of electronic communications. It also provides a way to recover lost or deleted emails, protect against data loss, and support eDiscovery requests in legal cases. In addition, email archiving can help organizations manage the volume of emails stored on their email servers and improve mailbox performance.

Email archiving for compliance is important for several reasons, including:

  1. Regulatory Compliance: Many industries are subject to strict regulations that require organizations to retain and archive certain types of communication, including email. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in penalties, fines, and legal consequences.
  2. Litigation: In the event of a legal dispute or investigation, email can be used as evidence. Archiving email ensures that all relevant communication is preserved and readily accessible for legal purposes.
  3. Business Continuity: Archiving email ensures that critical information is preserved in the event of an outage or disaster. By having a centralized archive, organizations can quickly restore email and resume operations.
  4. Knowledge Management: Archived email can be used for knowledge management purposes, allowing organizations to track communication and identify trends, patterns, and opportunities for improvement.

Overall, archiving email for compliance is essential for maintaining the integrity of communication, protecting against legal and regulatory risks, and ensuring business continuity.

Achieve Email Compliance With Kiteworks

The Kiteworks Private Content Network provides organizations operating in highly regulated industries a secure email solution that adheres to most data privacy requirements. We do so with a focus on the following:

  • Secure Email Links: The Kiteworks platform uses AES-256 encryption at rest and TLS 1.2 in transit, with FIPS 140-2 validated and FedRAMP Authorized options to ensure confidential information stays private. Rather than sending an email and file attachment, recipients receive a secure link to the content so organizations can be assured only authenticated users can read the message, and controls prevent forwarding to unauthorized parties.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Emails and their file attachments are encrypted and secured, and document folders are protected with granular policy controls, meaning that we can help you meet your regulatory obligations, like the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), GDPR, the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), System Organization Control (SOC 2), the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST 800-171), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), or frameworks like the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NIST CSF) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO 27001).
  • Immutable Audit Trails: Audit logs prove that you trace all file activity and catalog security events and other items (like users providing consent for marketing), so you demonstrate compliance with regulators. Audit trails also assist law enforcement in the event of a security incident or comply with a legal hold for eDiscovery activities. Our immutable trails ensure that you’re always getting a complete picture.
  • CISO Dashboard: The CISO Dashboard helps you monitor and trace your data as it enters, traverses, and exits your organization. You can see who sent what to whom, when, and where—and prove it to auditors and regulators. With visibility down to the file level, you can drill down to the actionable details, including users, timestamps, and IP addresses, to spot anomalies and respond to threats in real time.
  • Private Cloud: Our cloud services are hosted on dedicated private, hybrid, or FedRAMP cloud environments. Deployment flexibility maximizes the security and compliance of your data and operations.

To learn how your business can ensure email compliance, schedule a custom demo of Kiteworks today.

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