Why this one email cost Boeing $4M

How formatting a spreadsheet turned into a headache for 36,000 Boeing employees.

When was the last time you sent someone an attachment in an email? Have you noticed that when you type the word "attach" and don't add something, Gmail even helpfully reminds you that you forgot something?

For many of us, this is an everyday occurrence--so frequent, we don't even think twice about it.

For security professionals, it is the stuff of nightmares.

Last week, Boeing notified employees of a minor security breach from February when one of their workers requested help from his spouse in formatting a spreadsheet. Not so terrible, except this spreadsheet contained sensitive information about 36,000 employees, including employee names, ID numbers and accounting codes in the visible columns, in addition to birth dates and social security numbers in hidden columns.

While this was just a careless mistake, Boeing was quick to act and cleaned up the mess immediately. They've destroyed all copies of the spreadsheet, informed the employees who are affected (and the Washington Attorney General), and offered identity theft protection to their employees.

IBM recently performed a worldwide security study which shows average cost of a data breach is $4 million. Each lost or stolen record containing sensitive information incurs an average cost of $158.

Companies like Boeing have playbooks and insurance for this type of thing. What can you do to keep yourself out of harm's way?

RELATED: Check out the best airports in the world:

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15 best airports in the world
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15 best airports in the world

15. Copenhagen Airport (CPH)

Yearly passengers: 26.6 million

Previous rank: 18

Why it's awesome: Copenhagen is one of the busiest hubs in northern Europe and is a major base of operations for Scandinavian Airlines and Norwegian Air Shuttle.

Skytrax reviewers lauded the airport for its clear and well-placed signs and the efficient, though sometimes crowded, facilities.

Source: Skytrax World Airport Awards. Yearly passenger figure is for 2015, provided by Copenhagen Airport.

14. Tokyo Narita International Airport (NRT)

Yearly passengers: 39.1 million

Previous rank: 11

Why it's awesome: Narita is the first of the two Tokyo airports to appear on the list. Located 35 miles outside of Japanese capital, Narita handles most of the international traffic going in and out of the city. The airport serves as a major hub for ANA, Japan Airlines, Delta, and United.

Skytrax reviewers lauded the airport for its efficient and friendly staff, clean facilities, and abundant dining options.

Source: Skytrax World Airport Awards. Yearly passenger figure is for 2016, provided by Narita International Airport.

13. Vancouver International Airport (YVR)

Yearly passengers: 22.3 million

Previous rank: 14

Why it's great: Vancouver takes home the prize as the top-ranked airport in North America for the eighth year in a row, and for good reason. Customer reviewers on Skytrax cited YVR's friendly staff, high level of organization, and easy access to downtown Vancouver as some of the best things about the airport.

Vancouver International also boasts a floatplane terminal, as well as a sizable collection of art from the Pacific Northwest.

Source: Skytrax World Airport Awards. Yearly passenger figures are for 2016, provided by Vancouver International Airport.

12. Kansai International Airport (KIX)

Yearly passengers: 25.2 million

Previous rank: 9

Why it's awesome: Located on an artificial island in the Osaka Bay, Kansai International is a major hub for ANA and Japan Airlines.

Reviewers on Skytrax praised Kansai for its modern architecture, clean facilities, and helpful staff. The airport also boasts a Sky View observation deck that affords passengers spectacular views of incoming and outgoing flights.

Source: Skytrax World Airport Awards. Yearly passenger figure is for 2016, provided by Kansai International Airport.

11. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS)

Yearly passengers: 58.3 million

Previous rank: 13

Why it's awesome: Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport is one of the busiest airports in Europe and serves as a hub for KLM, Transavia, and Delta.

Opened in 1916, Schiphol is noted for its wide variety of leisure activities and has a library in which fliers can cozy up with a good book while waiting for their flights.

Source: Skytrax World Airport Awards. Yearly passenger figure is for 2015, provided by Airports Council International.

10. Frankfurt Airport (FRA)

Yearly passengers: 61 million

Previous rank: 12

Why it's awesome: Frankfurt Airport is the fourth-busiest airport in Europe and one of the most important transit hubs in the world. FRA is home base to Lufthansa's fleet of more than 270 jets.

Skytrax reviewers praised the airport for the ease of transit between terminals and the abundant shopping and dining options. Some, however, have complained of lengthy lines at immigration.

Source: Skytrax World Airport Awards. Yearly passenger figure is for 2015, provided by Airports Council International.

9. London Heathrow Airport (LHR)

Yearly passengers: 75 million

Previous rank: 8

Why it's awesome: Heathrow is the world's third-busiest airport and the largest of the five primary airports serving London.

Heathrow is in the midst of a major renovation with the addition of a new Terminal 2 building. It's eight-year-old Terminal 5 building was named the best airport terminal in the world by Skytrax.

Heathrow serves as the main hub for British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

Source: Skytrax World Airport Awards. Yearly passenger figure is for 2015, provided by Airports Council International.

8. Zurich Airport (ZRH)

Yearly passengers: 27.7 million

Previous rank: 7

Why it's awesome: Just 8 miles from the heart of Zurich, the airport serves as the home for Swiss International Air Lines and as a hub linking Switzerland's largest city with the rest of the country.

For passengers with an extended layover, Zurich Airport offers bicycle and inline-skate rentals and excursions to the Swiss Museum of Transport Lucerne.

Source: Skytrax World Airport Awards. Yearly passenger figure is for 2016, provided by Zurich Airport.

7. Central Japan International Airport (NGO)

Yearly passengers: 9.8 million

Previous rank: 6

Why it's awesome: Built on an artificial island in the middle of Ise Bay near the city of Nagoya, Central Japan International — also known as Centrair — is a focus city for Japan Airlines and ANA.

Centrair holds the distinction as the best regional airport in the world.

It has a 1,000-foot sky deck, where passengers can watch ships sail into the Port of Nagoya. There's also a traditional Japanese bathhouse, where you can have a relaxing soak while watching the sunset over the bay.

Source: Skytrax World Airport Awards. Yearly passenger figure is for 2014, provided by Skytrax.

6. Hamad International Airport (DOH)

Yearly passengers: 30 million

Previous rank: 10

Why it's awesome: Hamad International opened for business in 2014 and is now home to Qatar Airways.

The airport and its two terminals sit on 5,400 acres of land and cost $16 billion to construct. Skytrax describes the facility as the "the most architecturally significant terminal complex in the world, as well as being the most luxurious."

Source: Skytrax World Airport Awards. Yearly passenger figure is for 2015, provided by the Qatari government.

5. Hong Kong International Airport (HKG)

Yearly passengers: 68.3 million

Previous rank: 5

Why it's awesome: Built on an artificial island off the coast of Hong Kong, HKG has become one of the most popular facilities in the world since it opened in 1998.

One of the busiest airports in Asia, Hong Kong International serves as the home to Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airlines, and Dragonair.

Be sure to play around at the SkyCity Nine Eagles golf course near Terminal 2.

Source: Skytrax World Airport Awards. Yearly passenger figure is for 2015, provided by Airports Council International.

4. Munich Airport (MUC)

Yearly passengers: 42.3 million

Previous rank: 3

Why it's awesome: Located northeast of downtown Munich, MUC is one of the busiest airports in Europe and the second-busiest in Germany, after Frankfurt.

Munich serves as a major hub for Air Berlin, Lufthansa, and Condor, and it features airy, glass-heavy architecture. A nearby visitors park features mini golf and a display of historic aircraft.

Source: Skytrax World Airport Awards. Yearly passenger figure is for 2016, provided by Munich Airport.

3. Incheon International Airport (ICN)

Yearly passengers: 49.3 million

Previous rank: 2

Why it's awesome: Incheon maintains its place as once of the world's elite airports with a third-place finish. Located on an island just outside of the South Korean capital, Incheon is home base to Korean Air and is the 24th-busiest airport in the world. It opened in 2001.

Incheon's highly regarded facilities feature an array of shopping and dining options, in addition to a bevy of cultural performances. The airport even has a Korean culture museum.

Source: Skytrax World Airport Awards. Yearly passenger figure is for 2015, provided by Incheon Airport.

2. Tokyo Haneda International Airport (HND)

Yearly passengers: 75.3 million

Previous rank: 4

Why it's awesome: Haneda is one of two major international airports that serve the Tokyo area. Located a few miles from the heart of the Japanese capital, Haneda has proved to be a popular port of entry for business travelers and tourists.

The world's fifth-busiest airport, Haneda is known for its service efficiency, cleanliness, and shopping.

Source: Skytrax World Airport Awards. Yearly passenger figure is for 2015, provided by Airports Council International.

1. Singapore Changi International Airport (SIN)

Yearly passengers: 55.4 million

Previous rank: 1

Why it's awesome: For the fifth year in a row, Changi takes the crown as the world's best airport. Changi serves as home to Singapore Airlines, Silkair, and Tigerair, and it's the 16th-busiest airport in the world.

The Singaporean airport has received praise from flyers for its beautiful architecture, efficient operation, luxurious amenities, and dining and shopping options.

Flyers passing through are treated to movie theaters, a multimedia entertainment deck, spas, and a wild corkscrew slide.

Source: Skytrax World Airport Awards. Yearly passenger figure is for 2015, provided by Airports Council International.

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Go old school

In this paperless age of the internet, it seems like we've gotten used to storing all our data in the cloud. However, some things are better left offline.

For certain types of information, especially things that contain personally identifiable information like social security numbers, the safest methods of delivery are still in-person or by fax.

For those of you (like me) who don't own a land line anymore (much less a fax machine), Regus Business Center and FedEx Office both have many locations around the world where you can use an actual fax machine.

Encrypt, encrypt, encrypt

I know that probably 95 percent of you are shaking your heads and saying "She can't be serious!" (I am.)

If you absolutely must use the interwebs to transfer your sensitive documents, you can be a little bit smarter about it. First, ensure that you're uploading things over an SSL connection. Next, that you've encrypted and password protected your attachments with a secure program like 7zip, or the excellent Cryptup plugin for Gmail.

Finally, make sure you never send the password to the file with the attachment itself. Deliver passwords verbally or via some non-email method.

Use the right tools

Sending sensitive files within email is just generally a bad idea overall, though. Instead, there are plenty of programs that exist to help pick up the slack.

Dropbox and Box are my two favorites, as both are certified for HIPAA-level data compliance, so your data is safe to store and share with them.

No matter what you do, no solution is 100 percent foolproof. New breaches are being reported almost daily, and excellent sites like Troy Hunt's HaveIBeenPwned can give you a leg up in prevention.

Making such a costly mistake can sink your business, and as an entrepreneur, every penny counts.

More from Inc.com:
3 Ways to Build Culture by Building Habits
How to Take Control of Your Inbox, Once and For All
5 Tips for Using Collateral to Secure a Small-Business Loan

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