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Choose your words carefully. North Korea may be watching

    Doctors bury their mistakes. Journalists print theirs for all the world to see.
Dennis Grubaugh    But business executives? Until the digital age, they must have thought they could do a pretty good job of hiding behind the scenes.
    That theory went out the window last month with the victimization of Sony Pictures, a company left hung up to dry by hackers purportedly seeking revenge over the company’s plan to release a movie featuring an assassination plot against the leader of North Korea. Not a fictional leader. THE leader. A guy who is still with us today.
    Setting aside the logic of poking a stick in the eye of one of the world’s most tyrannical dictatorships, Sony executives seemed intent on doing themselves wrong long before green-lighting their movie. What they could never have known was that so much of their internal strategy, data, musings and debate would become fodder for the world stage.
    Day by day, piece by piece, there were new revelations about company policies and politicking that tickled middle America much more than many of today’s comedies ever would. Rifts about Angelina Jolie. Accusations against Leonardo DiCaprio. Off-color commentary about Barack Obama. It was the kind of celebrity stuff that most of us probably figure goes on in the penny ante minds that inhabit Hollywood, but didn’t have proof.
    So many personal emails were exposed, and the content of those missives so questionable, that I was beginning to think inmates were running Sony’s asylum. What executive would write some of this stuff?
    Then, it occurred to me: Who of us hasn’t said something stupid in an email? And how many of us have lived to regret it?
    Words have the power to do real harm in our world. And when they are spoken aloud they can prompt reprisal. But privately written words are another matter. Most of the time they are intended only for the eyes of the writer and the recipient, the result of a trusting relationship. Once they get out, trust is lost.
    Sony execs, like politicians everywhere, found out the hard way that nothing in the digital world is really private. The financial ramifications are huge. In addition to leaked scripts and other costly revelations, Sony spent $44 million making “The Interview.” How much money will be lost in the end?
    Sony officials learned two hard lessons, and they apply to every business — every person — in America. First, seal up the security of your data. If  you don’t want someone to see it, either don’t place material on line or beef up the protections so that no one has access. No one. Not your friends, your coworkers, your spouse — or North Korea.
    Second, watch what you say in an email. Let your conscience be the judge. If you wouldn’t say things to a person’s face, why would you say them behind his back — and in writing? Reasons of insanity aside, I mean.
    Dennis Grubaugh is editor and partner of the Illinois Business Journal. He may be reached at or (618) 977-6865.

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