In a world where more is done online than ever, law firms find themselves at a unique risk of data security attacks. Constantly handling sensitive matters such as Intellectual Property (IP), their systems are an ideal target for criminals in search of exploitable data and files. That’s why it’s essential for legal professionals to stay on top of the latest security measures. Here, we’ll provide an overview of the special vulnerabilities these companies face and review some best practices for mitigation.

Recognizing the Unprecedented Risks of Today’s Digital Business Landscape

Data security is top of mind for all industries heading into 2023. We’re coming off an unprecedented year of attacks, not to mention novel risks that haven’t been seen before.

According to recent statistics, data breaches climbed by an annual average of 15.1% in 2021, costing U.S. businesses more than $6.9 billion. That’s a 392 percent-plus increase from only four years earlier in 2017 when the same metric was estimated to be around $1.4 billion.

Experts only predict that this reality will get worse; ongoing digital transformation across sectors has made businesses more reliant on technology than ever. Practically everyone – from your local tax professional to your healthcare provider – utilize digital tools to get the most important parts of their job done and must now operate with the added vulnerabilities that come with these connected operations.

From ransomware, malware, and phishing to third-party attacks, insider threats, social engineering, form jacking, and more, the potential risks are endless. Quickly evolving strategies are increasing organizations’ susceptibility to suffering loss – 82% report serious concerns regarding their vulnerability. With the cost of cybercrime anticipated to reach $10.5 trillion by 2025, there’s serious pressure on businesses that want to stay afloat to prioritize the solutions they have in place to mitigate it.

Law Firms’ Unique Vulnerabilities to This Environment

While cybersecurity is a relevant issue for all businesses in the twenty-first century, it has specific importance to legal professionals and the firms they operate. Similarly to healthcare, education, and finance, the legal industry works with sensitive public information on a day-to-day basis. This includes – but of course, is not limited to – names, records, contact information, addresses, health history, and financial documents. Most importantly of all, lawyers often handle cases involving issues of Intellectual Property (IP), which must remain confidential in order to protect their clients. Law firms handle incredibly sensitive information, and this makes them a prime target for hackers. Smaller groups are especially vulnerable, as these businesses seldom have the resources to devote to a robust security system.

According to a recent survey, one quarter 25% of law firms report having experienced a data breach before. That proportion is only expected to rise in parallel with the criminal sophistication of the 21st century. In fact, many experts believe that legal firms are particularly at risk to suffer security incidents because they’re not taking the necessary steps to secure their data. Whether it’s through lack of training, failure to invest in technology, or not having sufficient policies in place, there are several ways that law firms can leave themselves open to attack.

Why Law Firms Should Now Prioritize Data Security More Than Ever

Beyond the fact that they’re uniquely vulnerable, law firms have plenty of reasons and incentives to take data security for the serious issue that it is. Below are four of the most notable and why they should be important considerations for legal professionals assessing their strategies.

Changing Industry Standards

As the digital landscape continues to grow more complex, law firms and businesses of all sizes have begun paying extra attention to their data security standards. So much so, in fact, that data security has become a requirement in most vendor contracts. If a law firm fails to meet these standards, it can face serious consequences including termination of the contract and fines.

In addition to higher security standards, many businesses now require that their vendors demonstrate proof of compliance. This means that law firms are expected to have some form of evidence that proves their data is secure. Common compliance methods include ISO 27001/2 and SOC 2 Type II, both of which require frequent measurement and validation.

Ethical and Regulatory Obligations

Lawyers are governed by a number of legal and ethical principles in the course of their work. Every state in America has its own expectations based on the Model Rules for Professional Conduct (MRPC), which specifically cover the issues of safekeeping property and confidentiality of information. Violations of these rules can result in fines, disciplinary action, and other penalties.

Law firms must also be aware of the data privacy regulations that are unique to their individual regions and states. Aside from rules directly applicable to lawyers, many states also have their own general laws on data privacy, most notably the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act (VCDPA), and Colorado Privacy Act (CPA). These rules focus on protecting consumer data and require those that handle it to take appropriate steps in doing so. They also require law firms to notify impacted parties whenever a data breach occurs. Violations of these regulations can have incredibly severe consequences, ranging from hefty fines to lawsuits.

Client Acquisition and Retention

The online world’s current level of risk hasn’t gone unnoticed by consumers. They’ve become increasingly aware of and concerned about the issue of data security and privacy, and are keeping these top of mind when choosing what businesses they want to work with.

From a general standpoint, roughly 55% of people in the United States say that they would be less likely to work with a company with a history of data breaches. Add to that the sensitive and high-stakes nature of legal endeavors, and that number is likely a lot higher for law firms.

If lawyers want to win new clients and maintain the trust of current ones, they need to show that they’re taking cybersecurity seriously. This is especially important when onboarding new clients, as they will want to know exactly how their data will be used and what the firm is doing to keep it secure.

Growing Risks

As cybersecurity solutions are advancing with technology, the strategies hackers use to circumvent them are too. What passed as a viable defense system 10 years ago certainly wouldn’t hold up against today’s new risks. These threats are craftier than ever, not to mention increasingly effective and efficient.

Research reports that in over nine out of ten cases, an external attacker can break through an organization’s network perimeter and obtain access to local network resources. The average time it takes them to breach its internal assets? Only two days.

As these risks continue to evolve, it’s essential for law firms to stay ahead of the curve and continually review their cyber practices. They need to be proactive in assessing their security systems and implementing strategies to protect against any potential threats. Failing to do so can be the difference between a viable business and one that winds up as a data breach statistic.

Reputational Damage

Cyber-attacks can have serious reputational consequences for businesses. Not only do they attract negative press, but the public’s trust and confidence in the business can be quickly eroded.

This is particularly important to consider in the legal industry, where clients rely on their lawyers to act with discretion and integrity. If a law firm is hacked, the public can lose faith in its ability to handle sensitive information, and it may even begin to doubt the firm’s overall competency. That’s the last thing you want when your job is to make people feel safe and secure.

How Law Firms Can Maintain Strong Data Privacy and Cybersecurity Practices

It’s clear that the legal profession must take immediate action to protect both its own data and that of its clients. There are a number of ways to do this, which when used together, can greatly decrease a firm’s chances of falling victim to cybercrime. Below are some of the easiest, most straightforward initiatives lawyers can take to bolster their business’ security.

Leverage Secondary Channels or Two-Factor Authentication

When handling sensitive information, verifying requests for changes or access to data should always be done through secondary channels. This is an especially critical approach when it comes to important account information, such as passwords and contact details.

By using two-factor authentication, business owners can ensure that any requests for changes in account information are only made when verified by an independent source. This extra layer of security ensures that only legitimate users can access sensitive data. It also helps to prevent the potential for cyber-attacks, as any attempts to log in from an unverified source will be blocked.

Think Before You Click

Employees of any business must be trained to think critically before clicking on links or downloading content from unknown sources. The same applies to law firms – anyone working within the business must be aware that clicking a malicious link could open the door for an attacker to gain access to confidential data.

Hackers will intentionally create similar-looking URLs in an attempt to get unsuspecting users to click. They can also attach links to malicious files, which when downloaded, could cause serious harm to a company’s entire system. Employees ought to know how to recognize these traps, and should be trained to always double-check any emails, text messages, or other communications before taking action.

Monitor Activity

Firms should implement monitoring and logging software, which tracks all user activity on any associated network. This allows businesses to identify any suspicious behaviors and take the necessary steps to stop an attack before it can become a major issue. Business owners must also ensure that all employees are aware of their logging and monitoring policies and that they understand the implications of any breach in protocol.

Invest In Employee Training

A company’s security stance is only ever as good as the knowledge of its employees. Without proper training, even the most secure networks can be breached. Business owners should ensure that all their employees are up to date with the latest security technologies and have the necessary understanding of how to prevent cyber-attacks.

Update Software Regularly

Software programs are regularly updated with fixes for discovered security vulnerabilities. Putting an update off can increase the risk that malicious actors could exploit any known issues. Businesses need to stay up to date on all their software programs, including their operating systems and security suites.

Refrain From Supplying Sensitive Information Over Email

Phishing is one of the easiest and most common ways businesses become victims of cybercrime. Everyone – from major corporations to government officials – has been duped by this strategy, which involves an attacker posing as a legitimate source to gain access to sensitive information.

Law firms must be especially vigilant when it comes to ensuring the safety of their emails. Whenever possible, sensitive information should never be shared over email. Instead, it should be done through other methods such as encrypted messaging or a secure file-sharing application.

Create and Enforce Policies

Creating and enforcing policies can be an effective way to prevent cyber-attacks, especially when it comes to law firms that handle large amounts of confidential data. Business owners should consider creating a policy that outlines the steps employees must take to protect data and enforce any repercussions for failing to do so. Employers should also consider updating their policy regularly to ensure that it is up to date with the latest security techniques.

By understanding the risks that come with working within the legal industry, and taking proactive steps to mitigate them, law firms can ensure that their businesses remain well-protected against any potential cyber threats. TeraDact’s Tokenizer+, Redactor+, and Secrets+ are powerful tools that can be utilized to ensure that law firms, and all other companies, have the best security measures to protect important data. With the stakes being higher than ever, doing so is essential to the success of any organization.