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Email sent to wrong recipient? Avoid getting fined

email sent to wrong recipient

Sending an email to the wrong recipient can trigger privacy risks, and even sanctions, especially if the email contained attachments or other content with personal data. Here’s a brief analysis on how to limit the risk of sanctions and avoid getting fined in case of an email sent to the wrong recipient.

Recent cases

On 21.05.2020 the Data Protection Supervisory Authority of Romania (ANSPDCP) finalized an investigation with an energy operator who accidentally send an email containing personal data of a customer to the wrong recipient and found that it violated the provisions of art. 32 of the GDPR, regarding the security of the processing.

The operator was sanctioned with a fine of 19368.4 lei, the equivalent of 4,000 EURO.

The investigation was initiated as a result of a complaint issued by a customer who was informed of the violation of security and confidentiality of his personal data, by the data controller. The company accidentally transmitted, via email, the personal data of a client (name and surname, address, e-mail address, client code and eneltel code) to another client, who was not entitled to receive such information.

During the investigation, the National Supervisory Authority found that the operator did not take sufficient security and confidentiality measures to prevent accidental disclosure of personal data to unauthorized persons , violating the provisions of art. 32 of the GDPR.

The operator was therefore sanctioned because it did not implement adequate technical and organizational measures in order to ensure a level of security corresponding to the risk of the processing generated especially, by the unauthorized disclosure or the unauthorized access to personal data.

At the same time, the corrective measure was applied to the operator Enel Energie Muntenia SA, according to the provisions of art. 58 paragraph (2) i) of the GDPR.

Thus, the operator was obliged to implement the appropriate and adequate security measures, both technical and organizational, within 30 working days of the communication.

Prevention & Remediation measures

Sending an email to the wrong recipient is one of the most recurring case of databreach, hence chances are it may happen to you too. So here’s a list of suggestions regarding safeguards to prevent the error, and try to limit its risks in case it happens.

1: Technical security measures

  • Recall the email: yes, in theory you can do that if you instantly become aware of the mistake, however based on the timing of the discovery and conditions and procedures of the different email service providers, you may actually not be able to avoid your message getting – wrongfully- delivered. In case you wish to give it a try, here’s a how-to guide. PROS: easy, generally free CONS: might not be effective
  • Adopt a data loss prevention software. Seriously, do it. Although not specifically aimed at preventing material errors by the sender, a Data loss prevention software detects potential data breaches/data ex-filtration transmissions and prevents them by monitoring, detecting and blocking sensitive data while in use (endpoint actions), in motion (network traffic), and at rest (data storage). It can feature advanced security measures which employ machine learning and temporal reasoning algorithms to detect abnormal access to data (e.g., databases or information retrieval systems) or abnormal email exchangehoneypots for detecting authorized personnel with malicious intentions and activity-based verification (e.g., recognition of keystroke dynamics) and user activity monitoring for detecting abnormal data access. It can become super useful if the breach is not consequence of a mere error… PROS: effective technology CONS: cannot prevent material errors, expensive.
  • Avoid including personal data in the body of the message and encrypt attachment files, then send the decrypting password through a different email (making the same mistake twice, can happen, less probable though) or a different channel (e.g. SMS message, in app notification). PROS: can effectively limit the risk of a databreach CONS: adds burdens to communication, makes it slower, however you can use in-mail add-ins to make it way faster.

2: Organizational measures

  • Train your employees: yes, that’s so important. The databreach lies between the fingers of your employee ready to send an email without double-checking if the email address is correct. You may wish to give them a proper training, pointing out the risks and pains which can arise from such an inaccurate move.
  • Get in contact with the recipient: once an email has been successfully sent, there is no way to call back or delete it from recipient inbox. Still you can get into contact with the unintentional recipient explaining that the email was a mistake, and ask them to not read the message – if that’s still possible.
  • Take note: study what happened and what fault caused the incident, in order to plan some follow-up action to limit the possibility it happens again. Document this process. It will be an aid to your defense in case of an investigation by the data protection authorities.

In any case, as a data controller you should carry out a databreach severity assessment in order to assess if the incident shall be communicated to the data subjects involved or notified to the supervisory authority. We built an automatic tool to do that for you, taking into account the EU (ENISA + EDPB) standards. If you wish to know more, get in contact here.

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In the next TechnoLawgy post we will assess how to handle a databreach once it happens and how to evaluate whether it shall be notified to the Supervisory Authority. Meanwhile you may fancy a look here: DATA BREACH NOTIFICATION: NEW PROCEDURE ADOPTED IN ITALY also you can find the dedicated #databreach podcast here.

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