Confidentiality is the foundation of the attorney-client relationship. As both an ethical obligation and common-law duty, law firms are trusted guardians of some of the most private and sensitive information. Additionally, there are usually contractual and regulatory requirements at play. With so much information and correspondence digitized, and the ever-evolving strategies of cyber crime, new and continuous approaches to securing the privileged information law firms are privy to is vital.
The American Bar Association reports that in 2021, twenty-five percent of law firms were victims of a data breach. Further, survey results also show that too many law firms, particularly smaller firms, are behind the curve when it comes to establishing basic security measures. To understand what law firms are up against when it comes to cyber crime, let’s take a look at a few of the top security risks law firms face.
- Ransomware Attacks: Cyber criminals know that law firms possess large amounts of financial information, private data and intellectual property, making them a tempting ransomware target. Ransomware is usually downloaded onto a computer via a malicious link or file that appears innocent to the victim. Once downloaded, attackers are enabled to access and then encrypt sensitive data and information. Utilizing threats and scare tactics the information is held hostage, until you pay up. This tactic often works against law firms because the release of confidential information can result in even further financial damage, loss of reputation and malpractice suits from clients. To avoid the potential loss of critical files due to ransomware, it is imperative that law firms invest in disaster recovery that includes backing up all crucial information through an external hard drive or at a secure out of network location.
- Phishing Scams: Phishing scams are one of the most common attacks on law firms. Criminals use social engineering tactics to try to gain access to sensitive data and/or obtain monetary benefit. Often this is done through a fraudulent email that appears to come from a legitimate source such as a colleague, client or superior. The email tricks the target into sharing financial or personal information, or clicking on a link that installs malware.
- Malware: A malware attack is when malicious code is used to infiltrate networks and databases in order to steal or destroy sensitive data. Often this is done through viruses or trojans that are accidentally downloaded through spam emails, malicious links or from an infected computer in the same network. These attacks are only increasing due to so much work being done by employees remotely on a variety of devices. To ward off malware, it is important that all employees take advantage of software updates in a timely manner as they often include security upgrades and patches.
- Access Control & Authentication: Relying on weak and easily guessed passwords is an issue with many users, and law firms are no exception. This means making sure employees are creating passwords that appropriately protect the network. Additionally, too often too many users have access to more than necessary on a network, so it’s important to control which users have access to what data along with tracking logins to ensure credentials are being used appropriately. Tools like password manager and multi-factor authentication can prevent bad actors from getting into your network.
- Lack of Training: Most data breaches involve some sort of human error, and attorneys are experts of the law, not cyber security. Therefore, it’s important to make sure the technology users at your firm are familiar with at least the basics of cyber security. Educating all users about phishing, social engineering, the importance of strong passwords, necessity of updating software and overall remaining vigilant is imperative. This gives users more confidence, and clients a greater sense of trust.
Law firms are well-known stewards of private and sensitive information, making them frequent targets of cyber attacks. Small firms too often fall victim since many have not invested in the defenses and procedures necessary to head off a breach. Fortunately, the financial stability and reputation of a firm can be protected with some simple security measures to ward off the above top risks. To ensure that the cornerstone of confidentiality between you and your clients is protected, don’t allow a lack of basic cyber security to wreak havoc on your firm.