Cyber attacks are at an all-time high and this is especially true for law firms across the globe. From trade secrets through access to trust accounts and the funds they contain, the legal sector holds extensive valuable and confidential data, making it a prime target for hackers and cyber criminals. If your law firm is doing nothing to protect this sensitive data, it is running the risk of being subjected not only to a cyber security breach but also to a breach of your firm’s professional responsibilities.
Ways your law firm could be attacked:
If your law firm does not have the right security architecture in place, it stands a very real chance of suffering a serious cyber attack. The days of installing a legacy firewall and anti-virus software are behind us. The path ahead involves an increasingly automated and organised adversary. The multitude of different attacks used by cyber criminals has grown and evolved increasingly over the years with new malware being created every day.
The following are the key type of attacks you should look out for:
- Phishing: email attachments or downloadable items that release malware when the recipient opens the attachment or file. This allows hackers to gain access to a law firm’s computer system and gives them visibility of sensitive information.
- Ransomware: an increasing threat to law firms, where hackers encrypt a firm’s data and demand to be paid a costly ransom for the decryption key. Ransomware will typically enter a computer system through phishing.
- Malware or Spyware: where hackers infect a law firm’s computer system with malware that spies on the firm.
Cyber attacks can go undetected:
Many law firms are often unaware that they have been attacked. On average, data breaches are not discovered until eight months after they happen, and two-thirds of breached companies find out from third parties.
Law firms are entrusted with significant amounts of sensitive information that clients expect to remain confidential. A cyber security breach could therefore lead to severe and irreversible consequences. Most notably, cyberattacks cause damage by:
- Accessing corporate and financial information, which could lead to the theft of large sums of money.
- Destroying and rendering all client data useless by irreversible encryption.
- Affecting the operation and use of mobile and computer equipment.
The consequences of a cyber attack:
A cyber attack can lead to devastating consequences. If your law firm does not have the appropriate procedures and systems to hold sensitive data safe, it could lead to loss of client data and therefore negatively affect the reputation or brand of your firm. Such reputational damage may affect the business and not be easily recovered from.
If a law firm is found to lack the proper procedures and/or systems for protecting clients’ information and mitigating damages from a cyber security breach, it could face claims of professional negligence. Other consequences include:
- Facing claims of unsatisfactory professional conduct or even professional misconduct for breaches of professional obligations under the Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules
- Breach of contract with clients; and
- Potential requirement to make disclosures under the Privacy Act for data breaches.
What you can do to minimise the threat of a cyber attack?
Ensure that cyber security awareness training is embedded within your firm. Cyber education and awareness is not a one-time event. The security of your firm and your clients’ data depends on how protected it is from cyberattacks. Law firms should regularly assess their risks and update their protection against cyber threats to avoid being attacked.
Security Lifecycle Review
A Security Lifecycle Review (SLR) is a good first step to access and analyse your law firm’s computer systems and network to pinpoint potential weak spots. It highlights:
- Which applications are in use, and the potential risks to exposure
- Specific details on ways adversaries are attempting to breach your network
- Comparison data for your organisation, versus that of your industry peers
- Actionable intelligence – key areas you can focus on immediately to reduce your risk exposure.