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Menaces of a Digital World: How to prevent cyberattacks on law firms?

Owner's Profile

Fardeen Imran

Published on October 12, 2023, 08:57:43


Cybersecurity, cyberattacks, data protection, data privacy

As we progress into a heavily advanced digital world, we can see a dramatic rise in cybercrime, given the value of the data available on the internet. This data is a goldmine to cybercriminals because its access can give them power over resources, people, organizations and even entire nations. But amidst such threats, not many people expect law firms to be a target of these criminals; after all, what do lawyers have but a bunch of boring client files?

 Well, the legal department holds the very thing that these criminals are looking for valuable, confidential client data, trade secrets, and intellectual property. This data, under the attorney-client privilege, is supposed to remain intact and private, making it inadmissible in court. What this also means is that a law firm is entrusted with the responsibility to safeguard client information from such attacks. Given this and the lack of awareness, law firms have become a common and relatively easy target for cybercriminals. 

But preventing your firm from becoming exposed to such attacks is not just a task of employing heavy technological protections, but rather incorporating preventive behaviours and measures to create a protective, well-cemented layer that can fight against such potential risks and attacks. Some of the ways a law firm can use to protect its data from cybercrime are as follows. 

Testing the System 

The IT department of a law firm or an external cybersecurity team should perform security risk assessments, vulnerability scans, penetration tests, and ongoing system and network monitoring at regular intervals. These practices are crucial for safeguarding against and detecting suspicious activities and potential data breaches. It is essential to understand that relying solely on antivirus software is insufficient for detecting sophisticated attacks, which can remain unnoticed for extended periods, sometimes even years. 

Maintaining a secure network involves regular monitoring and testing of security controls. This encompasses implementing secure configurations and diligently managing security patches for operating systems, applications, and network devices. Additionally, ongoing monitoring for cybersecurity risk alerts ensures swift responses to potential threats. 

Restricting Access 

There must be strict control and scrutiny over employees' access to confidential and sensitive information. Employees should only be granted access to the minimal data required to fulfil their respective roles. 

Managing Security 

To enhance security, reviewing and enforcing password and user privilege policies is essential. Encouraging strong passwords, comprising at least 12 to 14 characters with a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, is vital. Alongside this, limiting the number of privileged accounts and monitoring user activity is crucial to data security. There must also be a multi-factor authentication wherever possible, and employees should be provided cybersecurity awareness.

They need to be well-informed about the law firm's security protocols and their responsibility to protect clients' sensitive, confidential information. Mandatory cybersecurity awareness training should be conducted for all users at least once a year, accompanied by periodic simulated phishing exercises. Sanctions should be applied to users who fail to comply with security policies and procedures. 

Encryption, Data Inventory and Backup Strategies 

Encryption should be employed when transmitting personally identifiable information, protected health information, or any other sensitive, confidential data. Encryption ensures that the data becomes unreadable to anyone without the appropriate decryption key, adding a layer of security. An inventory of software systems and data should be conducted, with clear ownership and risk categorization. Establishing a reliable backup strategy is also fundamental to data security, and regular data backups should be performed. Data should also be stored offline to safeguard against threats like ransomware, and all backups should be encrypted with user-defined encryption keys, either stored on-site, off-site or in the cloud. 

Incident Response Plan and Team Establishment

Creating and implementing an incident response plan (IRP) and team (IRT) is essential for swift containment and response to data security incidents. The IRT should include management legal, human resources, procurement, finance, and IT representatives. Well-rounded regular exercises can also be carried out to determine the readiness of the security and the team if such attacks do take place. 

Cyber Liability Insurance 

Review existing insurance policies for cyber coverage and consider purchasing a stand-alone cyber liability policy that covers both first and third-party losses. Consulting with an insurance broker experienced in cyber liability coverage can help ensure sufficient coverage and limits tailored to the law firm's specific business needs.

As we navigate the ever-evolving digital landscape, it becomes increasingly evident that even law firms, perceived as guardians of confidentiality and legal privilege, are not immune to such internet threats. Ultimately, a law firm and its lawyers and managers must prioritize the protection of valuable client data, that stands vulnerable to these digital threats. 

Law firms can fulfil their duty to their clients, uphold the principles of attorney-client privilege, and navigate the digital landscape with confidence and resilience, only if they incorporate these protective measures that are so important in the modern digital landscape. Embracing this proactive mindset can aid law firms in effectively shielding themselves from the pervasive and ever-evolving cyber threats of the modern world.

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