Any business that must store high-stakes information is a high-value target. Law firms frequently house confidential client information, trade secrets, intellectual property, or even client money. This makes them particularly attractive to cyber actors and nation-state intelligence services. Proper cybersecurity for law firms is crucial to protect this high-value data.
|“Law firms are top targets of cyber spies and cyber criminals as they are a one-stop shop for intellectual property, sensitive and confidential data on many clients. Law firms are also behind the curve a bit with regards to cyber security, which makes them soft targets.” – Tab Bradshaw, Chief Operating Officer, Redpoint Cybersecurity
Confidentiality breaches aren’t all that’s at risk. An information leak can undermine the core principle of legal representation and potentially render lawyer-provided information inadmissible in court. As such, strong cybersecurity is fundamental to upholding ethical standards in the legal profession.
As law firms are experiencing an increase in cyber attacks, understanding the fundamentals of law firm cybersecurity is increasingly important. Education helps reduce human error and encourages stricter measures in practice. This article provides an introduction to what legal professionals need to know.
What Are a Legal Professional’s Responsibilities For Information Security?
A legal professional’s primary responsibility for information security is to safeguard the confidentiality and integrity of client information. This involves implementing reasonable measures to protect data from unauthorized access and ensuring secure communication channels.
Implementing password management protocols and activating multi-factor authentication on all work devices are integral first steps. All legal professionals must also be aware of the specific compliance standards that they must adhere to.
Some example compliance standards include:
- American Bar Association’s Model Rules: These emphasize a lawyer’s duty to protect client confidentiality, extending to electronic data and communications.
- Data Breach Notification Laws: Various U.S. states require notification in the event of a data breach, such as California’s Data Breach Notification Law and New York’s SHIELD Act.
- Consumer Data Privacy Laws: California, Colorado, and Virginia have laws mandating the protection of personal information. A prime example is the California Consumer Privacy Act.
Compliance standards may also vary based on your state. Please consult your local guidelines for any specific standards you must comply with.
What Are The Biggest Threats to Law Firm Cybersecurity?
Law firms are increasingly targeted by advanced cyber threats from countries like China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. The goal of these attacks is typically economic espionage. Using client information from a law firm’s database, these actors can target businesses in the U.S. private sector and strategically cause economic damage or steal trade secrets for their own use.
For example, three hackers in New York were indicated in 2016 for targeting several law firms in the city. Their goal was to steal information on pending business mergers and acquisitions for the Chinese government.
Law firms are also favorite targets for hacktivists. Law firms often store information on corporate secrets, merger deals, and acquisitions. Bad actors may target your systems to leak this information about your business clients.
Knowing who you’re up against is only one part of the solution. It’s also important to understand how such actors are enacting their attacks.
According to the American Bar Association (ABA), 27% of law firms reported experiencing a data breach in 2022. Security breaches are often due to sophisticated hacking methods that exploit even the smallest security vulnerabilities. That’s why it’s so critical for law firms to implement robust network monitoring and proactive detection.
Phishing attacks target the human element of your cybersecurity. Nation-state actors, particularly China, are increasingly using sophisticated methods like spear-phishing and supply chain attacks to access sensitive information in business networks.
Law firms are particularly susceptible simply due to the high volume of electronic communications they manage. The more electronic communication occurs, the higher the odds of a phishing incident.
Law firms often collaborate with external vendors, which can introduce cybersecurity vulnerabilities. An issue in a third party’s system can compromise the firm’s data. This risk emphasizes the need for diligent vendor risk management and network segmentation.
Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)
APTs are prolonged, targeted cyber attacks. Law firms are attractive targets for these sophisticated attacks due to the amount of confidential information they hold. Access to a firm’s network can yield valuable insights for extortionists or nation-state actors.
The legal sector is seeing a rise in ransomware attacks. Attackers recognize the critical importance of confidentiality in legal practices. This means that they view law firms as prime targets they can pressure into paying ransoms.
Insider threats arise from within the organization, whether through malicious intent or inadvertent mistakes. These incidents can result in the exposure of sensitive data and can be harder to detect.
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7 Law Firm Cybersecurity Best Practices
1. Regular Risk Assessments
Conducting regular and comprehensive risk assessments allows law firms to identify and address vulnerabilities proactively. These assessments should encompass all aspects of cybersecurity to ensure a well-rounded defense strategy.
2. Incident Response Planning
Only 42% of law firms have an incident response plan, yet it is crucial for rapid and effective action following a security incident
3. Advanced Phishing Protection
Law firms must implement advanced phishing protection mechanisms. Employee training is a must, but it’s also important to do more than just that. Consider implementing NGAV-based email filters to prevent sophisticated phishing attempts from entering inboxes.
4. Third-Party Security Evaluations
Regularly evaluate the security measures of partners. This includes assessing their compliance with cybersecurity standards and your firm’s specific security requirements. However, these evaluations cannot replace internal protocols used to reduce third-party security risks.
Here are the steps that such an evaluation may take.
|1. Initial Assessment
|Review the third-party’s current cybersecurity policies and practices.
|Identifies baseline security posture.
|2. Compliance Check
|Verify their adherence to relevant cybersecurity standards.
|Ensures regulatory compliance.
|3. Security Audit
|Conduct or review recent security audits of the third-party.
|Provides detailed insight into security practices.
|4. Vulnerability Analysis
|Evaluate their system for potential vulnerabilities and risks.
|Highlights areas needing improvement.
|5. Contract Review
|Ensure cybersecurity clauses and requirements are included in contracts.
|Legally binds the third-party to maintain certain security standards.
|6. Continuous Monitoring
|Establish ongoing monitoring of their security posture.
|Keeps track of security changes and potential new risks.
|7. Response Planning
|Review their incident response plans and protocols.
|Prepares for coordinated action in case of a cybersecurity event.
5. Data Encryption
Encrypting sensitive data, both in transit and at rest, is crucial. This practice ensures that even if unauthorized individuals gain access to data, it remains unreadable and secure. It’s also important to regularly update encryption protocols to stay ahead of emerging decryption techniques.
6. The Zero-Trust Model
The Zero-Trust model always requires verification for anyone attempting to access network resources. This approach addresses the evolving tactics of cyber attackers by constantly validating user identities and access privileges. This continuous authentication approach is particularly effective against tactics that exploit credentials and identity weaknesses.
7. Know Who is In Your Database
The clients you serve will increase or decrease the size of the target on your firm. For instance, Article 7 of China’s National Intelligence Law states that all citizens must participate in national intelligence work when compelled to do so. This means that if you handle clients who conduct business in China, you will be a target.
That doesn’t mean you have to cut ties with every client who decides to expand to China. However, it does mean that you need to bolster your cybersecurity measures if a client makes this choice.
Enhance Your Firm’s Security Measures With a Strong Cybersecurity Team
While legal professionals have an obligation to uphold cybersecurity best practices in their firms, managing advanced technologies can be difficult. Most professionals at a legal practice are already incredibly busy and basic cybersecurity systems just won’t cut it.
That’s what makes Redpoint Cybersecurity ideal for law firms. Our military-grade cybersecurity team can fully manage your firm’s cybersecurity. Our services include 24×7 network monitoring, proactive threat hunting, and managed incident response.
Reach out to us today to find out more about how we can help.