June 10th, 2013

Best Practices: Removing all copies of an email from an email server

These questions arise over and over:

How do I prevent copies of my email (inbox/sent) from being backed up on your servers?

Is there an automatic way to do this?

What if I only want data saved on servers if it is encrypted?

Where are the other copies stored?

Can I use a WebAide to auto save/encrypt email and attachments and remove any copies received/sent?

We’ll answer these questions in general and in the context of LuxSci.

How do I prevent copies of my email (Inbox/Sent) being backed up on your servers?

When email is delivered to your Inbox or other folder, it resides on your email server waiting for you to access it.  If you use WebMail or IMAP (or MobileSync) to check your email, then that email will reside there until you explicitly delete it.

Most email providers will backup your email server on a periodic basis.  Any email in your INBOX (or Sent) email folders at the time of backup is included in the backup snapshot.  Some email solutions will backup every email received and sent automatically, this is done, for example, by LuxSci’s Premium Email Archival solution.  In these scenarios, all messages are saved in backups automatically, no matter what.

So, how to prevent or minimize having copies of you Inbox backed up?

  1. Do not use a system that works like Email Archival, saving copies of everything for you.  Only Premium Email Archival does that at LuxSci for your automatically (there are, however, ways that you can do similar things via manual configuration of your account).
  2. If you use IMAP or MobileSync or WebMail, delete the messages from your Inbox as soon as you read them.
  3. Better would be to use POP, connecting your computer to your account and having it download and delete email from your Inbox every minute or two. (Be sure that you do not choose the POP option to “keep copies of the messages on the server”).  Using POP in this way, your Inbox will always be empty or almost empty, so any backups of your Inbox will contain nothing or only a few messages at most — assuming of course that your computer is on and actively downloading/deleting messages.
  4. If you do use WebMail, IMAP, or MobileSync and delete messages, be sure that you have your WebMail or email program preferences configured to actually erase messages that you delete … and not just move them to a Trash folder on the server … as that will also be backed up by your email provider.

What about Sent email?

Sent email, like all of your email folders, is automatically backed up in each backup snapshot at LuxSci.

  1. If you are using WebMail, your only choice is to configure your preferences so that copies of Sent email messages are never saved.
  2. If you are using IMAP with your email program, you may be able to have copies your Sent email messages saved to a local folder on your computer instead of to a folder on the server.  Note, however, that saving copies to the server is the default behavior in most IMAP-configured email program.
  3. If you are using POP to access your email, then copies of your sent email will always be saved to your local computer instead of to the server, as POP has no way to upload copies to a server-side sent email folder.
  4. Note: some providers, such as LuxSci, allow you to configure your account so that a copy of any email message sent (over SMTP) is automatically placed in your Sent email folder (no matter what).  This is not on by default at LuxSci, but you might want to check your preferences for this if that is a concern (see “email > My Email Tools > Outbound Email > Copies of Messages” in your LuxSci account).

Is there an automatic way to do this?

The best way to be sure that email is automatically and continuously removed from these folders so that they are not backed up is to have your computer configured with POP access checking your email every minute or two.  As long as your computer remains on, no further interaction is needed.

Most providers do not permit individual users, folders, or accounts to exempt themselves from automatic system backups.  This is also true of LuxSci for shared hosting accounts.  Dedicated server/Virtual server accounts at LuxSci, however can have custom backup schedules, can choose to have backups completely disabled, or can choose to have backups only made to separate disks on the same server (and nowhere else).

What if I only want data saved on servers if it is encrypted?

In many cases, it is very useful to have data saved on the server.  Backups, remote access from multiple devices and locations, etc., play a role in the utility of this practice. However, the extremely security / privacy conscious may want to ensure that any data saved on the server (and residing in backups) is encrypted at rest.

See: Ensuring all Data is Encrypted at rest with LuxSci

Where are the other copies stored?

The answer as to where copies of data are stored is completely provider specific.  For LuxSci:

  1. Daily Backups: Daily backup snapshots of data, of which 7 are kept by default, are saved on special backup servers in the same physical location as your actual email/web server.  This makes backups very efficient and maximizes the speed that a restore of a large amount of data can be made (e.g. by copying over very fast local networks).
  2. Weekly Backups: Weekly backup snapshots of data, of which 4 are kept by default, are saved on special backup servers in a physical location geographically remote from your  actual email/web server.  Backups in separate physical locations is a good practice to protect against disaster and against configuration/human error.
  3. Cache: Customers using the LuxSci Web Interface to view email and WebAides will have copies of that data temporarily saved in special “cache” databases.  These are used to greatly optimize the speed of the WebMail Interface and the fluidity of your access to related items (e.g. attachments on email messages).  These cache databases are backed up in the daily and weekly snapshots … so users of WebMail may have copies of recently viewed email messages backed up in these cache database backups.
  4. Deleted Users: When a user is deleted, LuxSci typically makes a copy of that users’ email and web hosting data and saves it for 1-2 weeks in case the data needs to be restored (it is not unusual for an account administrator to delete a user by mistake).  These deleted-user files are also backed up in the daily and weekly backup snapshots.

What about dedicated customers?

Customers with dedicated servers can also choose to have their WebMail Interface running on the server (and thus also their own “cache” database on their server).  With this scenario, all access to stored email/web data is done solely from the customer’s server and any temporary copies of data are saved on that same server.  These customers can then also choose how they want backups done, e.g.

  • No backups, ever
  • Backups …. but only to a separate disk on their own server (to isolate all data to their machine)
  • Any combination or daily and weekly backups required.

Can I use a WebAide to auto save/encrypt email and attachments and remove any copies received/sent?

LuxSci’s WebAide collaboration tools include tools for file storage and PGP-encrypted file storage. Customers often ask if it is possible to have messages or attachments auto-saved in an encrypted format to these WebAides.

There are tools for sending an email attachment to a “Documents WebAide” and or automatically saving all attachments / content from selected inbound email messages to a “Blog” or “Documents” WebAide, but these are not saved with encryption.  To use encryption, you would need to download the email or attachment to your computer first, and then upload it to a new Documents (or Blog) WebAide entry and select encryption at that point.

If you are a SecureForm user, you can have your posted form data and files automatically saved to a Documents WebAide with encryption.  So, your secure form posts can go directly into WebAides with encryption at rest.


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