Government and Other Institutions Should NOT Use Public Email (GMAIL or YAHOO) As Their Official Communication Medium

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-They should use institutional email accounts!

By Dr. Darren Wilkins | 0886703789\0777129092 | [email protected]

A few months ago, I tried to register for a course in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning at a renowned university in the USA, using my GMAIL account. During the registration process, I was asked to enter my institution of employment in addition to other required information. When it was time to finalize the registration process, I received an error message informing me that the process could not be completed because an INSTITUTIONAL EMAIL was required; that the system could not accept my GMAIL email address. Prior to that experience, I had received a similar error message when I tried to subscribe online to a white paper on the topics mentioned above.

In today’s article I try to inform if not educate, my readers on the essence or the imperatives of using institutional email rather than public emails, for official communication purposes. I shall briefly define public email; give you examples of them; and delineate some of the dangers of using them as an institutional communication medium. I will also suggest ways of obtaining an institutional email system for your institution, assuming you already don’t have one. So, here we go!!!

Despite the advent and presence of other communications tools such as texting, video-conferencing (WhatsAPP, IMO, Skype, Messenger, etc), blogging, microblogging, etc., email remains yet a popular platform for business communication. Two types of emails are frequently used by individuals and organizations: institutional emails and public emails. Institutional emails are those specifically owned by the institution using its own domain name. For example, [email protected],  or [email protected], [email protected].

Public email systems are those that are offered FREE OF CHARGE by their providers. Some examples of pubic email systems include GMAIL, Yahoo, Hotmail, ([email protected], [email protected], etc.). Since these email services are provided by external providers, they (the providers) remain in complete control of all emails and account data, which are stored externally on their servers; and they (providers) are not subject to our regulatory restrictions.

Visit the Emansion website’s jobs page or read some of the local dailies. You will notice that official communications emanating from Government agencies or other public institutions, especially job advertisements, often include something like: “Contact human resources at: [email protected]” or “[email protected]”. Oftentimes we see Government communications or business cards with individuals listing their GMAIL or YAHOO! account(s) as their official email contact. And when I say officials, I am not just talking about low level officials, I am referring to some top officials of Government, businesses, academia and other sectors. While the use of public email system is not illegal (not to my knowledge of course), it is absolutely UNPROFESSIONAL and from an IT/ICT standpoint, it allows room for a lot of problems.

No doubt, public email systems have increased and improved communications since the advent of the internet. They have made the traditional postal system relatively useless since they are faster, less cumbersome and cheaper. Yet, like most “free” things on the internet, public email systems come with a lot of stress. They provide a medium for scamming, cyber-impersonation, hacking, malware distribution, phishing, cyber-extortion and other cyber-crimes. Moreover, an institution’s use of public emails as official communication medium not only leaves room for data breaches, legal issues, etc., but it also takes away the professional image that is supposed to be inherently exhibited by institutions.

Some folks would argue that public emails such as GMAIL or YAHOO are provided by large companies that have tremendous resources to prevent cyber-criminal activities, hence it is safe to use them in ANY institution. It is true these are companies with humongous resources, but immunity from cyber-attacks has not always been the case with all of them. You see, for many years, many of us thought that companies like Yahoo!, Google, et al, were totally untouchable or impenetrable. This perception endured until September 2016 when Yahoo confirmed that its system had been attacked and that, no less than half a billion user accounts had been compromised in what was one of the largest cybersecurity attacks ever known. What was very alarming about this incident was not only the fact that detailed account information was stolen, but rather, the fact that the breach itself occurred in 2014, two years before being discovered.

The other obvious reason why pubic email, especially public email accounts of individuals should not be used in institutions is the possible threat on continuity. For example, if an employee uses his/her public email address to set up an account for a service that’s critical to the institution, the institution runs the risk of losing access to that service if individual’s email account is compromised or if the individual leaves the institution. To ensure that the institution retains ownership of its services, it is best to use the institution’s email and not a public or an individual email account.

I may sound a bit trite or redundant but the primary goal of this article is to discourage Government officials and officials of other institutions from using public emails for official communication purposes. Emails from institutions should be sent through their own email system using their own domain (@yourinstitution.gov.lr, .edu.lr, .com.lr, etc) and not at GMAIL or at YAHOO. You see, just like an institution’s name or logo, an email address is often one of the things that people see when dealing with an institution for the first time. Hence, a branded email address usually gives the right first impression.

Obtaining an institutional email system using your own domain name these days is not as difficult as it used to be back in the day. These days, all you have to do is first obtain a Liberian internet domain if you are operating in Liberia (something with the .Lr extension…. www.xxx.gov.lr or www.xxx.com.lr or www.xxx.edu.lr). This is done at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications through the Chief Information Office. The CIO submits a request for a domain to our domain registrar who then creates the domain. I know this because I wrote the procedure to obtain a domain. After obtaining the domain name, you can purchase an email service from a reputable company, assuming you do not have an email server in-house.

The process of obtaining a .LR domain as I said earlier is not as cumbersome as it was in the past. There are few requirements of course and they are as follows: an entity requesting a .LR domain must be registered in Liberia and have a physical presence here. In addition, the institution must have a hosting (web or email) platform that is connected to two international backbones situated in two geographical locations. Now the two geographical locations is a requirement that many web hosting companies including GoDaddy do not meet. So, it is imperative that your institution speaks with the authorities at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications for guidance with this endeavor.

Finally, this email is not intended to discourage you from using your Gmail or Hotmail or Yahoo email accounts for your own personal reasons. No! In fact, I too have my Gmail accounts that I use for personal reasons. I just won’t use it when I am performing tasks for an institution that employs me. If you are conducting business on behalf of the institution, you should use the institution’s email because it reduces the chances of data breaches and other disruptions; it provides better legal protection; it gives the IT/ICT department better control over institutional communications; it provides email continuity; it provides a safeguard for critical institutional functions and it enables the institution to exhibit its professional image. So, let me end by stating succinctly that NO GOVERNMENT, BUSINESS or ACADEMIC institution should use GMAIL, YAHOO, or HOTMAIL to send any serious business communication to external partners or stakeholders; that’s a NO NO!!

Until next week,

Carpe diem!

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