Cybersecurity for Law Firms: 6 Steps for Reducing Risk

By Sachin Bansal

Posted on Nov 16, 2020

Law firms are becoming a common target for cyber criminals as more legal offices embrace digital transformation and implement emerging technologies. Lawyers have access to confidential information including industry trade secrets and intellectual property, and must adhere to attorney-client privilege.

Without an effective cyber risk management program, organizations are putting critical data at risk. Explore the top threats that law firms need to be aware of and learn best practices for properly managing cyber risk in the legal field.

Why is cybersecurity important in the legal sector?

Many law firms have been slow to adopt cybersecurity policies and programs, and hackers are aware and taking advantage of that fact. Confidentiality is foundational to attorney-client relationships, thus, cybersecurity needs to be a top priority for law firms, especially those who rely on cloud-based platforms. Law firms are prime targets for hackers as they can gain access to a plethora of valuable client data via one single point of entry. Extrapolated legal information is particularly useful as it can be leveraged for ransom or sold online for large amounts of money due to its potentially damaging impact on victim reputation.

Top cyber threats facing lawyers

The sensitive nature of legal data leaves law firms vulnerable to a range of cyber attacks that are increasing in both volume and complexity. Here are a few of the leading cyber threats law firms must consider:

Data breach

Legal firms have access to highly confidential information, putting them at an increased risk for data breach. Often, cyber criminals will execute attacks to collect personal information and distribute it in a public manner. Effective security controls, policies, and continuous monitoring tools are key to securing sensitive client data and financial information.

Phishing scams and hacked email accounts

Phishing and other email hacking scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Many lawyers use email as a main form of communication and leverage other online tools such as DocuSign that may connect to client email addresses and inboxes. This can put legal firms at high risk due to the sensitive nature of the information being sent between clients and attorneys.

Ransomware

Ransomware is a form of malware used by hackers to encrypt files. After encrypting the files, cybercriminals will demand a fee to restore normal access and operations to users. If presented with threats concerning file deletion, firms should avoid engaging with the hacker and should instead turn to file recovery experts to ensure sensitive client or case information is protected.

Malpractice allegations

If a client feels that an organization is not doing enough to effectively protect their data, they may file a lawsuit against the firm in charge of managing the data. As people become more cyber aware, organizations will have to ensure that they’re securing client files in a sufficient manner or run the risk of legal malpractice allegations which can have a large impact on firm reputation in the long term.

6 steps for building effective cybersecurity programs in the legal sector

Protecting important firm and client data is a continuous process that must be upheld, as new threats are constantly being introduced into the cyber threat landscape. Explore 6 steps that law firms can take to build an effective cybersecurity program and reduce risk:

1. Promote a culture of cybersecurity awareness

Employee cyber awareness training is a crucial component of a cybersecurity program, as many of the top cybersecurity threats among law firms are targeted toward internal staff. With the cost of insider threats rising by 31% in the last two years, it may be worth considering establishing an employee training program that teaches staff how to spot fake email addresses, secure passwords, and effectively stop threats before they become a serious problem. When people understand the various types of attacks they may come across, then they can mitigate risks more proactively.

2. Establish cybersecurity policies and processes

Developing a risk assessment process allows your organization to continuously monitor its cyberhealth and prioritize risks based on their level of impact. Establishing internal cybersecurity policies also helps streamline management for security teams as well as educate those in the firm how to respond to attacks should they occur.

3. Develop a risk assessment process

A risk assessment process involves analyzing all company assets for the purpose of identifying the various threats facing your organization. Threats should be ranked and prioritized based on the likelihood of each potential risk occurring and the impact it would have on the company. This will help to guide future decision-making so IT teams can understand where their time will be best spent.

4. Create an incident response plan

It’s important to develop a comprehensive incident response plan that clearly outlines what needs to be done if and when a threat is detected, and whose responsibility it is to make sure everything is carried out accordingly. Armed with a clear plan of action, your organization will be prepared to mitigate the overall impact of an attack or potential breach and quickly return to business as usual.

5. Keep up with software patches and updates

One of the first lines of defense against cyber threats is to ensure that all software and operating systems are up-to-date on patching. According to CISOOnline, roughly 60% of data breaches were caused by vulnerabilities for which a patch existed. Consider establishing a patch cadence for your organization to review systems, networks, and applications for updates that remediate security vulnerabilities.

6. Scale back network access

Another important step in mitigating vulnerabilities is to establish network risk management initiatives, including network access controls (NAC), that can help limit user access to the network. Access should only be given to those who specifically need it for their job function because each person has the ability to open up additional points of entry for hackers, if managed incorrectly.

How SecurityScorecard can help bolster cybersecurity for legal organizations

Like many industries, the legal sector is undergoing rapid digital transformation, and as a result, cybersecurity needs to become a priority across the entire organization. No matter the size of the law firm, a cyber risk management program will be key to maintaining critical attorney-client confidentiality as new online tools are adopted.

SecurityScorecard is able to instantly rate, understand, and monitor security risk through a combination of comprehensive security ratings, advanced analytics, and actionable, data-driven insights. Security ratings make it easy to continuously monitor the cybersecurity posture of any legal organization with an easy to read A-F rating scale. This enables your organization to make informed decisions about how to prioritize threats and respond proactively and efficiently, so you can secure important assets and data, and ultimately, keep your clients happy by focusing on what matters - winning the case.

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