Cyber security in the legal sector – minimise your risk to exposure

The prevalence and wide variety of cyber-crime means it is now a major risk to businesses across any sector. However, law firms and other legal organisations are particularly attractive sources of information due to the sensitive commercial and client data they hold.

According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), cyber-crime caused substantial losses to law firms last year, with figures ranging from £50,000 to £2million, whilst a further 20 firms fell victim to email scams.

Due to the increase in sophistication of cyber-crime tactics, security is no longer a back-office IT issue. The risk of exposure to cyber-crime and the steps to prevention are rapidly becoming key business decisions, and high on the agendas of senior partners, as the cost of cyber-security breaches can be disastrous in terms of financial, professional and reputational risks.

Essentially, the greatest dangers can often be overcome by taking straight forward preventative measures. Below, we list a few of the common threats and the simple steps to combat the risk of breaches.

  • Emails 
    Perhaps most worryingly, one of the biggest risks to IT security comes from firms’ own employees – maliciously or unintentionally.

    Email is the most common method in which employees can cause security breaches unintentionally, for example, by sending a message to the incorrect recipient. One of our recent articles commented on the increase in popularity of SecureDocs, our secure online document delivery and acceptance tool. This growing popularity can be attributed to firms’ increase of awareness in the importance of sending and receiving confidential information, particularly in light of recent hacking threats. Using a tool like SecureDocs, fee earners can utilise an email messaging function that allows only the intended recipient to securely view the documents via an online portal.

  • Legal software and technology
    For law firms, legal software often underpins business operations and as such, acts as a storage facility for client contact details and sensitive case information.

    The right case management software will enable administrative users to limit file access and ensure only relevant fee earners can view and/or open a particular file.

    Furthermore, an effective audit trail should be in place to ensure all incoming and outgoing transactions within a case can be seen at-a-glance, as well as any amendments made to cases, including documents or fields.

    Taking this further, clients themselves are increasingly conducting audit inspections of law firms prior to instruction. As part of the initial research period, clients expect their potential firm to be able to demonstrate the measures and software they have in place to ensure any sensitive data remains confidential.

  • Know Your Client (KYC)
    Compliance, risk management and diligence are always at the top of the list for the legal sector, and as part of any client inception process, reliable and accurate ID checking needs to be carried out.

    Nowadays, sophisticated phishing tactics can involve criminals using social media information to pose as a contact of a specific individual, a prospective client, or even another law firm you’re intending to do business with. This can be highly effective and ultimately allows access to account IDs, passwords or a means to install harmful software.

    Integrations with case management software such as Proclaim’s ID and AML checker, enables fee earners to request ‘one-click’ ID checks, directly from their desktop, and ultimately provides them with a comprehensive solution to the KYC problem. Similarly, Proclaim’s Lawyer Checker integration enables purchase conveyancers to gather information on a seller’s conveyancer, identifying risks of sending funds to the suggested account.

As the importance of the internet to business increases so will the issues relating to cyber-crime. The big challenge for law firms is how to maintain a cost-effective defence, which can develop in time to match a constantly evolving threat.

A vital strategy is to identify information that matters the most – typically emails and data held in legal software – and ensure strategies are in place to prevent attacks, or quickly detect ones that can’t be. In addition, the basics cannot be forgotten. Law firms need to develop and maintain a robust business continuity plan in order to react quickly and effectively if compromised. Being aware and prepared for threats will enable firms to prevent incidents and react quickly enough to reduce impact.