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What are the biggest online security threats the Legal Industry is facing

by Shrisha Sapkota

case management software, practice management software, legal accounting software, legaltech, technology for lawyers, case management, immigration, london, united kingdom

Introduction

The legal sector is particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks due to the volume of data, sensitive information, financial responsibility and authority it holds.[1] Law firms are among cyber criminals’ most attractive targets, but, although they’re aware of the risks, law firms don’t always properly protect themselves.[2] As they take on growing volumes of sensitive digital information, law firms become increasingly vulnerable to hacking attempts and data breaches.[3] Data breach, either from a cyber attack or simple error, is one of the biggest threats legal practices now face.[4] If a law firm specialises in corporate or property law, they are at greater risk, as the potential for financial gain is unprecedented. Although the main reason law firms are targeted is for financial gain, there is also a growth in cyber adversaries seeking political, economic or ideological goals.[5]

With cybercrime risks continually evolving as criminals devise new ways of beating security software and tricking people into handing over their personal or business details, it makes sense to be aware of what the newest cyber risks are – and the steps you need to take to ensure your firm stays secure and compliant. [6] Legal professionals have a unique obligation to mitigate various risks, whether crafting infallible arguments for trial or negotiating complicated contracts. But in recent years, as the volume of sensitive data being managed by the average law firm has skyrocketed, the previously unfamiliar risk of cybercrime has presented a serious challenge to otherwise incredibly capable legal teams.[7] Advanced legal softwares is less targeted by cyberattacks.

A key motivation for a cyber-attack is financial gain, and with the legal software UK worth around £37 billion, it is no wonder that cybercriminals are interested in law firms. The legal sector holds vast amounts of sensitive client and corporate data that hackers can profit off by selling on the dark web or holding ransom for a large sum of money.[8]

Unfortunately, not a single law firm – or any organisation, for that matter – is exempt from being the next victim of a cyberattack.[9] Law firms need to take action and be prepared. When it comes to mitigating email compromise, law firms cannot expect employees to bear the burden of identifying threats, but instead must utilise the technology available to spot incoming threats as they arise.[10] The software of law offices must be protected from cyber attacks.

Some of the biggest cybersecurity risks law firms are currently facing are given as follows

Ransomware

Ransomware, which effectively ‘kidnaps’ your files in return for a ransom payment, is the main malware threat.[11] The threat of malware – software that seeks to disrupt, damage or gain unauthorised access to computer systems – has been around for a while now, and one of the fastest growing forms of malware today is called ransomware.[12]

Ransomware, a form of malware that encrypts important files and information, may also begin with a malicious email. Or the cyber criminal might exploit a vulnerability, such as an outdated operating system, to gain entry and launch the malware.[13] As its name suggests, ransomware blackmails its victims by locking down access to systems and data, and promising only to return access in exchange for a sum of money.[14]

In the past, victims would then receive a note demanding payment in exchange for data back. But today’s attackers often take a new approach. Rather than lock or delete your files, they’ll make copies and threaten to publish them.[15]

Both outcomes can be devastating. Since most lawyers bill by the hour, losing access to critical case files will cause immediate financial damage. And, because you work with confidential information daily, having it publicly exposed could crush client trust and potentially lead to a lawsuit.[16] Many law firms would pay such sums if it ensured that their data was recovered in full – if not, the financial impacts could be much more significant.[17]

In this kind of digital attack there is more chance of losing the data than recovering it as  most of the data that has been under the attack of any kind of ransomware  are mostly never recovered. The problem with ransomware is that, even if the sum is paid, a fifth of organisations do not actually receive their data back.[18] Even if they do, the costs to law firms is still significant, with consequences including lost files, reputational damage and a breakdown in client relationships, and a significant loss of time to put the issue right.

If an organisation receives threats about files getting deleted if hackers don’t receive money soon enough, they should avoid paying the ransom and speak to file recovery experts first.[19] If your Disaster Recovery Plan is not optimised for such attacks, you should ensure that you can get your backups live in minutes, rather than hours or days, so that significant time is not lost rectifying the problem.[20] Backing up data in the cloud is an important precautionary step — but it’s not a guarantee. What’s worse, paying the ransom also doesn’t mean you’ll get your assets back. The attacker may still delete or publish files after receiving their money.[21]

Phishing/Hacked Email Accounts

As the data in an attorney is huge, they use different tools to connect to email for login. Lawyers typically use email accounts throughout their workdays and may also depend on online tools like Dropbox or DocuSign that users connect their emails to for login purposes.

With more data being housed and managed in different virtual locations, the possibility of that data being exploited has significantly increased. Although cybercriminals deploy various methods to execute data breaches, these methods overwhelmingly involve the manipulation of email platforms, and typically fall under the broader category of phishing scams.[22] However, cybercriminals are getting increasingly creative about using phishing techniques to hack email accounts used by law firm personnel.[23]

Phishing attacks, where staff are tricked into giving away confidential information, have reached epidemic proportions. Around 80% of law firms have had at least one phishing attack in the past 12 months, according to a Law Society online poll. Once they have your username or password, cyber criminals can hack into your firm’s computer system and steal information or money.[24]

Phishing techniques are now extremely sophisticated, able to trick an unsuspecting employee into clicking malicious attachments or links. As a relatively easy attack to pull off but highly lucrative, it is a popular method for hackers.[25]

Two of the most common phishing tactics levied against law firms today include ransomware, in which hackers demand payment by threatening to release sensitive data, and email fraud, in which clients or third-parties are impersonated in an attempt to trick legal professionals into transferring funds to hacker organisations. Both methods remain favoured by cybercriminals, and currently upwards of 86% of cyberattacks begin with one email phishing scam or another.[26]

For a legal firm, it is vital to train and provide information to every employee about phishing, ransomware and other digital threats to protect their legal software.[27]Each time a new breach comes to light, we are reminded of how much damage can be done in a short amount of time, often as the result of failed data governance practices and a lack of standard operating procedures.[28] 

One of the first things to do after such attacks is to change the passwords associated with email addresses and online tools that connect to email accounts. Applying two-factor authentication to the email account is also wise.[29] When a phishing attack is identified on time it helps to protect more data and dollars.[30] If it’s likely clients’ information was compromised, law firms must decide when and how to inform them.[31]

Insufficient Cyber Security Protocols

Cyber security protocols are plans, protocols, actions and measures that aim to keep the law firm safe from malicious attacks, data breaches and other security incidents. In order to make sure that the law firm is protected, the staff of the law firms need to employ various protocols and software that work well together.[32]

Often, a hacker’s success will rely on a mistake on the inside. Although there can be malicious ‘insiders’, it is usually someone who has been tricked by such methods as described above. A lack of training and cyber awareness can lead to legal employees being less vigilant around cyber risks like email or password security, making them more susceptible to these social engineering tactics.[33]

Many legal software for UK law firms do not have adequate cybersecurity policies and processes in place, particularly when it comes to vetting third-party vendors and integrating new technologies into the firm.[34] Mostly the legal firm does not invest in cybersecurity products. Attorneys contain huge sensitive data that can be hacked and published so to protect those data it is important to have strong cybersecurity.[35] The clients have the right to file a legal malpractice suit on the legal firm in case they are not happy with the protection methods.[36]

Outside of cybersecurity, there are promising ways to use AI to automate tedious legal tasks, such as document tagging. If firms are already open to using AI in that way, they should explore how it can keep their assets more secure, as well.[37]

Email fraud

The main way hackers will breach legal firms is through email.[38] Law firms are uniquely susceptible to email fraud attacks, as the strong personal relationships they build with clients can be exploited through carefully planned impersonation campaigns. Unfortunately, numerous firms and legal teams have been successfully defrauded by cybercriminals over the years, and the repercussions tend to be significant.[39]

It often starts with a malicious email designed to trick partners, lawyers, or staff into sharing login information.[40] This involves the infiltration of a company’s email system where a hacker will then pose as an employee, usually in a position of seniority, and send emails to other employees, clients, or partners.[41]  If successful, the cyber criminal may sell the credentials or move further into the IT network to compromise sensitive documents and client data, edit or delete contracts, reset passwords, or cause other damage. And, since the attacker is using a legitimate account, it can be hard to detect if something is wrong until it’s too late.[42]

The recipient sees the email is from someone seemingly legitimate, making it even more likely that they will act on what is being requested.[43]

DDoS attacks

This form of cyber attack involves a concentrated overloading of a business’s servers in order to cause downtime, either by activist groups or as a result of systems being hijacked with malware. Such attacks can result in computer systems crashing for long periods, causing major business disruption.[44]

The first and best defence against DDoS is to recognise an attack and respond early. The staff from the legal  firm should ensure that you invest in the right technology to help identify such attacks, such as anti-DDoS software, and have a team on-hand that are proactively monitoring the firm’s server for spikes in network traffic or a slowdown in performance.[45]

Defence Against Cyber Attacks For Law Firms

Those in the legal sector yet to examine their security levels and act are risking the serious repercussions that come with cyber-attacks. With phishing attacks the most prolific, it is important for legal firms to properly educate employees on the signs of a phishing attempt and how to respond.[46] Thus, law firms should be wise to choose the right legal software with law firm security controls.

It’s important to think about cyber security holistically. The legal firm security control needs a full view of the entire IT environment — networks, cloud services, devices, remote users — to protect their teams, clients, and data. But this can be hard and often requires specialised skills to make sense of data and prioritise threats.[47] The law firm system should also regularly back up your files. This should be preferably somewhere off your network, such as an exterior hard drive or legal cloud server. This way, if you are attacked, your data can be restored.[48] It can also be useful to introduce policies and processes centred around ensuring monetary transfers are secure, especially if requested via email.[49] It is imperative that the computers are up-to-date and installed with the latest antivirus and malware software to help protect against the risk of hacking and malware scams where client monies can be lost.[50] These are some of the best ways to protect the legal software tools of the law firms.

References

 

[1] https://www.lawyer-monthly.com/2019/10/the-growing-cyber-threat-facing-the-legal-sector/

[2] https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/en/topics/cybersecurity/three-biggest-cyber-threats-facing-law-firms6u

[3] https://www.lawyer-monthly.com/2021/11/exploring-the-cyber-threats-facing-legal-services/

[4] https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/en/topics/cybersecurity/three-biggest-cyber-threats-facing-law-firms

[5] https://www.lawyer-monthly.com/2019/10/the-growing-cyber-threat-facing-the-legal-sector/

[6] https://www.doherty.co.uk/blog/3-top-cyber-security-risks-in-the-legal-sector

[7] https://www.egress.com/resources/cybersecurity-information/phishing/law-firms-targeted-phishing

[8] https://www.lawyer-monthly.com/2021/11/exploring-the-cyber-threats-facing-legal-services/

[9] https://www.lawyer-monthly.com/2019/10/the-growing-cyber-threat-facing-the-legal-sector/

[10] https://www.lawyer-monthly.com/2019/10/the-growing-cyber-threat-facing-the-legal-sector/

[11] https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/en/topics/cybersecurity/three-biggest-cyber-threats-facing-law-firms

[12] https://www.doherty.co.uk/blog/3-top-cyber-security-risks-in-the-legal-sector

[13] https://fieldeffect.com/blog/law-firm-cyber-security-threats/

[14] https://www.doherty.co.uk/blog/3-top-cyber-security-risks-in-the-legal-sector

[15] https://fieldeffect.com/blog/law-firm-cyber-security-threats/

[16] https://fieldeffect.com/blog/law-firm-cyber-security-threats/

[17] https://www.doherty.co.uk/blog/3-top-cyber-security-risks-in-the-legal-sector

[18] https://www.doherty.co.uk/blog/3-top-cyber-security-risks-in-the-legal-sector

[19] https://www.lawtechnologytoday.org/2018/10/four-biggest-cybersecurity-risks-law-firms-are-currently-facing/

[20] https://www.doherty.co.uk/blog/3-top-cyber-security-risks-in-the-legal-sector

[21] https://fieldeffect.com/blog/law-firm-cyber-security-threats/

[22] https://www.egress.com/resources/cybersecurity-information/phishing/law-firms-targeted-phishing

[23] https://www.lawtechnologytoday.org/2018/10/four-biggest-cybersecurity-risks-law-firms-are-currently-facing/

[24] https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/en/topics/cybersecurity/three-biggest-cyber-threats-facing-law-firms

[25] https://www.lawyer-monthly.com/2021/11/exploring-the-cyber-threats-facing-legal-services/

[26] https://www.egress.com/resources/cybersecurity-information/phishing/law-firms-targeted-phishing

[27] https://www.infoguardsecurity.com/the-top-cyber-security-threats-law-firms-will-face-in-2019/

[28] https://www.law.com/international-edition/2020/05/25/the-six-biggest-cybersecurity-threats-to-law-firms/

[29] https://www.lawtechnologytoday.org/2018/10/four-biggest-cybersecurity-risks-law-firms-are-currently-facing/

[30] https://www.infoguardsecurity.com/the-top-cyber-security-threats-law-firms-will-face-in-2019/

[31] https://www.lawtechnologytoday.org/2018/10/four-biggest-cybersecurity-risks-law-firms-are-currently-facing/

[32] https://www.logsign.com/blog/cyber-security-protocols-that-you-should-know/

[33] https://www.lawyer-monthly.com/2021/11/exploring-the-cyber-threats-facing-legal-services/

[34] https://www.law.com/international-edition/2020/05/25/the-six-biggest-cybersecurity-threats-to-law-firms/

[35] https://www.infoguardsecurity.com/the-top-cyber-security-threats-law-firms-will-face-in-2019/

[36] https://www.infoguardsecurity.com/the-top-cyber-security-threats-law-firms-will-face-in-2019/

[37] https://www.lawtechnologytoday.org/2018/10/four-biggest-cybersecurity-risks-law-firms-are-currently-facing/

[38] https://www.lawyer-monthly.com/2021/11/exploring-the-cyber-threats-facing-legal-services/

[39] https://www.egress.com/resources/cybersecurity-information/phishing/law-firms-targeted-phishing

[40] https://fieldeffect.com/blog/law-firm-cyber-security-threats/

[41] https://www.lawyer-monthly.com/2021/11/exploring-the-cyber-threats-facing-legal-services/

[42] https://fieldeffect.com/blog/law-firm-cyber-security-threats/

[43] https://www.lawyer-monthly.com/2021/11/exploring-the-cyber-threats-facing-legal-services/

[44] https://www.doherty.co.uk/blog/3-top-cyber-security-risks-in-the-legal-sector

[45] https://www.doherty.co.uk/blog/3-top-cyber-security-risks-in-the-legal-sector

[46] https://www.lawyer-monthly.com/2021/11/exploring-the-cyber-threats-facing-legal-services/

[47] https://fieldeffect.com/blog/law-firm-cyber-security-threats/

[48] https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/en/topics/cybersecurity/three-biggest-cyber-threats-facing-law-firms

[49] https://www.lawyer-monthly.com/2021/11/exploring-the-cyber-threats-facing-legal-services/

[50] https://www.doherty.co.uk/blog/3-top-cyber-security-risks-in-the-legal-sector