It seems like every month there is some kind of news story about leaked emails. When emails never intended for the public eye are leaked, the consequences can be huge. People have lost their jobs, whole companies have been embarrassed, and in some cases the information revealed can even be dangerous.
Considering how easily emails can be leaked, it’s almost surprising we don’t hear about leaks more often. Here are the five kinds of leaks that seem to be the most common:
- Internal emails forwarded to people outside the company.
- Hacked email accounts (extra dangerous because the entire email account becomes exposed).
- Emails uncovered during legal investigations.
- Personal emails leaked internally in a company.
- People accidentally sending emails to the wrong email address (we get a fair share of those to the Pingdom support inbox).
Whenever you communicate via email, there is a small chance that someone sooner or later shares it with people you never intended it for.
Here are a few famous examples of leaked emails and what their consequences were.
The Twitter confidential document leak
This summer a large number of internal documents from Twitter were leaked. How did it happen? A French hacker managed to get into the email accounts of several Twitter employees, and from those downloaded emails, attached documents and other sensitive, internal information. He then made this information available to, among others, TechCrunch, who posted some of the information online.
Steve Jobs admits to launching MobileMe too soon
When Apple launched its MobileMe service in July 2008 it was plagued by excessive downtime and other capacity-related problems. A month later, an internal email to Apple employees from Steve Jobs leaked to the public where he admitted that the service had been rushed out and that it had been a mistake to launch it at the same time as the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 2.0 software update. Apple ended up giving MobileMe users two free months as compensation.
Email leak reveals secret MediaDefender anti-piracy tactics
In 2007, almost 700 MB of internal company emails from the controversial anti-piracy company MediaDefender were leaked by hackers, revealing the tactics used to counter file sharing of copyrighted content over the Internet. In an ironic twist, the documents were spread and distributed over BitTorrent. Practices that the company had previously denied using were confirmed in these emails.
Leaked email shows Microsoft funding battle against Linux
In 2004, a leaked email seemed to implicate that Microsoft was secretly helping SCO raise money for its legal battle(s) against open source Linux makers. Whether this was a misunderstanding by an external consultant, as SCO contended, or not, it still created a wave of speculation that didn’t exactly create goodwill for SCO or Microsoft.
And now a painfully embarrassing example to cap this off:
Dear employees, please buy our wine
In 2006, a leaked internal email from the drinks giant Constellation revealed that the company had been asking their employees in the UK to buy the company’s own products in an effort to win a big contract to supply a chain of 650 pubs with house wine. Just listen to this:
The email to employees read: “To date we have had a poor response to our invitation to get all employees to visit their local JD Wetherspoon outlet and purchase Nottage Hill Chardonnay & Shiraz (and Echo Falls in the Bristol area) and reclaim via expenses.
“We would implore each of you to participate in this activity as it is vitally important that we maximise volumes.”
More examples of email leaks
When we collected the examples of leaked emails there were enough interesting examples to fill a book, and since this is just a blog post we had to draw the line somewhere. But here are a few more that stood out:
- 2002: Professor offering tobacco company to place pro-smoking articles in the press (for a fee)
- 2005: Leaked White House email outs a CIA agent (the Valerie Plame affair)
- 2006: Morgan Stanley employees forced to resign after an internal email that attributed Singapore’s economic success mainly to money-laundering was leaked
- 2008: Sarah Palin’s email account hacked
As mentioned, this is just the tip of a very big iceberg. If you want more, do a web search for “leaked email” and you’ll have tens of thousands of examples to wade through.