Legal firms represent an information rich environment for hackers. Within the servers, workstations, and mobile devices of lawyers and support staff, a plethora of documentation exists from financial information, to business transactions, all the way through pending patents and solutions that present milestones in innovation. No other commercial vertical contains the type of data that a law firm has.
Law firms however produce a single product that is key to their success: words. In the end, everything they produce is tied to a document that can have references to evidence, pictures, or physical manifestations. A legal firm’s product is documentation and with that concept, potentially tens of thousands of papers with different variations depending on city, county, state, or country.
Why Law Firms Represent a Target
Law firms produce this product using industry standard computing devices and a myriad of services to upload, share, and file documents with other firms and government entities. These systems are produced and delivered by leading companies like Lexis Nexis and have the same potential for defects and vulnerabilities like any other IT system in any other vertical. They can be compromised with operating system and application vulnerabilities
, and be threatened by excessive privileges
and insider threats. The results are not initially monetary like compromising a bank, but can be monetized by blackmail, advanced knowledge of a pending business transaction (like going public or an acquisition), or even data leakage to destroy a reputation. The variety of data held in law firms makes this all possible.
What Law Firms Can do to Protect Their Data and Their Clients
In order to protect law firms from cyber security weaknesses, organizations should consider the following security best practices:
Perform Security Updates
The computers in a law firm are no different than in any other business. The vast majority are based on Windows
and have a few dozen third party applications to support the production of documents and inventory of content. All of them have periodic security updates and all should be patched. If a law firm does not have an IT consultant on payroll, consider setting all your solutions to update automatically, from Microsoft Office to Adobe Reader. This will help ensure that the next exploit does not target your systems and potentially compromise your client’s documents.
It is not uncommon for lawyers and legal secretaries to have administrative access to file shares and even their own computers. In addition, it is very common to share passwords
between users and never change them – even when an employee leaves. In order to protect documents from potential insider theft and malware that targets privileges and shared passwords, make sure each employee has a unique username and password, make sure they change at least every 90 days, and remove administrative rights
from all of the credentials except when absolutely needed. This one recommendation – next to applying security updates – is the best thing to secure your firm.
Replace End of Life Technologies
If your law firm is still running Windows XP or Windows 2003 Server plan to upgrade as soon as possible. There are still millions of copies of Windows 2003 Server in businesses and they are no longer receiving maintenance of security updates from Microsoft. They are easy targets for hacks and should be replaced with a modern operating system to mitigate this risk.
Nothing beats a good education. Lawyers know this, it’s how they got their jobs! Teach users how to properly handle sensitive documents, not store them on their workstations but only on secure servers, and not click on links or run programs from unsuspecting sources. It’s normal for people to surf the web, but loading the latest game on a firm’s computer is not acceptable and users should be restricted to this type of access and potential malicious behavior.
In the end, it will be impossible to stop every attack against every vertical, but legal firms represent a unique target for hackers due to their content. If a breach does occur, the legal ramifications for notification vary state to state, but hiding the information is the worst thing any firm can do. Law firms are officers of the courts and are sworn to uphold the law (not enforce it) and should treat a breach just like any other crime they may be aware of. Attorney client privilege does not protect a legal entity from disclosing a breach has occurred if the contents and volume warrant law enforcement notification.
For more on how you can secure your privileged content
, contact us