The perception of law firms is forever evolving. Originally clients are used to be brick-and-mortar offices, however, we now have a more digital landscape where clients can reach out from anywhere and be serviced in an instant.
The law field’s transition to paperless filing and online consultations has been pivotal. However, while this technology change may be more convenient, it also has its share of risks in the form of cybercrime.
Hackers are especially drawn to law firms because of the vast amounts of private client information they have stored in their servers. This data is like gold to cybercriminals, and law firms of all shapes and sizes are at risk. Protecting your clients’ information is the absolute priority, and you can start by educating your staff about the risks and what they can do to avoid becoming a victim.
The Threat is Real
The data that law firms store in their servers is a major draw to cybercriminals. Social security numbers, financial information, and addresses can all be used to take out fraudulent loans or be sold on the black market. Even email addresses can be used to send phishing emails to friends and family or back to your own law firm. Those in the law profession are typically well respected, but if it gets out that your firm did not take your clients’ data seriously, you could lose business. And while there are several security measures implemented around the world to protect sensitive data, in the US, it’s mostly up to private entities to protect their own information. Because of this, it’s even more important than ever that law firms are up to date on all their security protocols.
If you think your firm isn’t at risk, you’re wrong. In the past, many firms have become victims of cybercrime and became infamous for their lack of security. In 2016, international law firm Mossack Fonseca was hacked, and over 11 million private documents were stolen, including those of world leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin. That is just the most high-profile case. Even small firms are at risk because the data is just that useful to hackers.
The first time a law firm is hacked could be the last. Even without losing the trust of your clients, the cost alone could sink your firm for good. Recent estimates state that the price of a data breach could be over three million dollars. These costs include the time spent repairing the vulnerabilities in your systems, putting new experts in place, and marketing efforts to repair your reputation. Those with smaller firms and client bases may not be able to recover from such a loss, and the bad reputation could follow you for years to come.
Yes, the points mentioned above are meant to scare you. Preventive measures must be put in place now, so you are protected if you are ever targeted by cybercriminals. The first thing your firm needs to do is to work with your IT staff and create a response plan, so everyone on the team knows exactly which role they fill if a data breach does occur. In addition to understanding which systems to check, this plan should also include the required steps of your public relations strategy, which, at a minimum, should include informing all affected clients that their information has been compromised.
Next, you need to train your staff on the dangers of cybercrime and what to do if they ever get a suspicious email, find a strange USB drive laying around, or believe that their data has been stolen. This security training should be included in all new-hire orientations, and a waiver should be signed confirming that they understand their responsibility. If a hacker does attempt to breach your systems, share the information with the team so they know what could have happened and how it was stopped, so they can be on the lookout for similar situations.
If you are a smaller firm or your staff just does not have the time to give cybersecurity the attention it demands, then you may want to hand over the responsibility to someone who can, and you can do so with cloud computing. By moving your law practice onto the cloud, you are making it easier to share information with your colleagues while saving money on office costs. Most importantly, professional cloud services have their own in-house security teams as well as Software as a Service, or SaaS programs that automatically encrypt all data, perform scans to ensure there are no intrusions, and maintain the most up-to-date solutions. This could be the best way to go if you are a new law firm or you need help staying secure.
Protect Against Threats
Another first step of protection in a digital landscape is being aware of common threats. Hackers will use all kinds of tactics to steal your data. One of the more common strategies is installing ransomware on your servers which effectively locks it from your use until you pay the hacker a sum of money. Beyond that, hackers can also install malware that can leak your client’s information back to their systems, often without you knowing it.
Again, proactivity is key. You need to put the proper protections in place so your systems are harder for hackers to access. This starts with proper passwords that include a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. On top of that, you should implement two-factor authentication, an additional entry along with the password specific to the user, like a thumbprint or eye scan.
Since many law professionals are often on the go, it is also important to secure all cell phones and mobile devices. When working out in public, keep your Wi-Fi option off and never leave your phone unattended. If you must use Wi-Fi to conduct business, be wary of free networks and always ask the owner of the establishment for the correct connection. Finally, turn on the encryption option on your cell phone. Doing so will prevent hackers from being able to use the data within, even if they can steal it when you are not looking.
Every industry is in the crosshairs of cybercriminals, and the law profession is no different. Those that really care for the security and protection of their clients should implement these strategies today so they can focus on the work that matters.