Key cyber security considerations for the legal sector

Regardless of the industry, business size, or revenue, all businesses are at risk of a cyber security incident. The advent of working from home has only amplified this risk with cyberattacks increasing by 400% in the initial weeks of the first lockdown. 

Law firms and companies in the legal sector make an attractive target for cyberattacks as they handle large volumes of sensitive information, and their transactions often include large sums of money. Law firms specialising in corporate or property law are particularly exposed due to the potential for financial gain. Smaller law firms are not exempt either, they are often viewed as easy targets and can result in quick wins for cyber criminals.

The true cost of a cyberattack in the legal sector can be difficult to quantify, the monetary cost is on average around £170,000 per incident. However, there can be an untold cost to a businesses’ reputation and an erosion of trust due to a data breach or cyber security incident. To stay safe, it is important to consider the top cyber threats in the legal sector and what businesses can do to avoid a cyber attack.

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Phishing attacks

The most common form of cyber security incident both in the legal sector and nationwide, are phishing attacks. These are social engineering attacks where cyber criminals impersonate a business or individual to influence users to disclose information or open a malicious file or link. This is most commonly through emails, however SMS, voice call and social media phishing attacks are becoming more frequent. These can also be targeted attacks, known as spear phishing, where the cyber criminal has researched the victim and tailored the messaging to the individual to appear trustworthy. This is a ‘popular’ attack vector due to the low cost and high reward for the cybercriminal.

Data breaches

Another threat to the legal sector are data breaches. Data breaches are often initiated through highly targeted phishing attacks and carry a large risk due to public backlash and reputational damage. In 2016, when the law firm Mossack Fonseca had a massive 2.6TB data breach they were unable to recover their reputation and had to close permanently. 

Ransomware attacks

Ransomware is a type of malware that restricts a user’s access to their computer or network.  The two most common methods of ransomware infection are infected email attachments and advertising with malicious links. Often with ransomware attacks all the files on a network are encrypted and seemingly the only way to receive the encryption key is to pay the ransom. Unfortunately, even when companies pay the ransom it is common for the hacker to not decrypt the files which can be devastating for a business.

Supply chain compromise

A recent threat to the legal sector is supply chain compromise. Even if a law firm has strong cybersecurity in place in their own network, a supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Supply chain compromise is where a third-party data store or software provider is compromised and therefore any company that uses their services is also compromised. Due to the amount of money and sensitive information that flows through the legal sector and their position in the supply chain it can make them a prime target for supply chain compromise.

How to avoid a cyber attack

  1. To avoid a phishing attack, employees should have training on how to detect a phishing attempt and never open attachments or links from senders they do not know or trust. However, even with training it is still possible to fall victim to a phishing attack, so one of the best methods of avoiding a phishing attack is by using a software such as Mimecast Email Security. This software uses AI and machine learning to identify potential phishing attempts and stops them from even entering an inbox.
  2. To prevent data breaches, it is important to comply with GDPR and manage security risks. All firm and client data should be protected and stored in a secure manner with software in place to detect potential security incidents and monitor user access.
  3. Ransomware protection. Employee education is paramount in avoiding ransomware, however this should be paired with software such as Mimecast Email Security to stop emails with malicious links. Devices should also be protected with updates being deployed as soon as they are released and data should be frequently backed up so in the case that there is a ransomware attack, a clean copy of the data can be easily accessed with little to no downtime.
  4. Due diligence prevents supply chain compromises. It is important to research each company in your supply chain and confirm they are security conscious to avoid supply chain compromise. A good place to start is to ensure that all third-party data stores and software providers have cybersecurity accreditations such as Cyber Essentials, Cyber Essentials Plus or any other relevant ISO accreditations. 
  5. Vendor consolidation. According to Gartner, 78% of CISOs have 16 or more tools in their cybersecurity vendor portfolio which, surprisingly, can leave them vulnerable to attack. There may be gaps are in the cyber security services you’re using, unknown to you, which is why vendor consolidation can not only help protect your organisation but also save money.

Cyber security should remain high on the list of priorities of all businesses in 2021, especially within law firms and in-house legal teams, as the risk and potential damage of a cyber attack is high.

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