“Dear Client.” That’s how the letter usually begins. The next few sentences are a little trickier; there is really no good way to tell someone that their data has been stolen.
Unfortunately, writing this letter is becoming an all too common occurrence in the legal industry. Cravath Swaine & Moore, LLP, Weil Gotshal & Manges, LLP, Mossack Fonseca, and Piscitelli Law Firm are all examples of firms that have had very public data breaches recently. Businesses lose more than $100 billion a year to cyber attacks and fraud globally, and since law firms house a treasure trove of sensitive data, the legal industry is a prime target.
While a security breach might be one of the last things on your mind, the most recent Travelers Risk Index report shows that it’s a top concern for your clients—“Personal Privacy Loss and Identity Theft” went from barely ranking on their survey a few years ago to being #2, right behind “Financial Security.” The covenant between law firms and their clients is real, and consumers want to know that their data is safe.
The expectation, especially in the legal field, where attorney-client privilege is sacrosanct, has to be met with the same fervor and drive that you strive to meet all your other clients’ expectations.
In writing this article, my hope is that I can start some conversations within your organization that will assist in protecting that covenant, as well as your brand and bottom line.
Engage and Educate Your Employees
It’s important that we create a culture of security within the organization because security is everyone’s responsibility. If you don’t have buy-in from all your team members, you’re exposing your business to unnecessary risk. The majority of attackers gain access to networks via social engineering and the manipulation of a user within an organization, not via command line “hacking” from a dark, Cheetos-filled basement somewhere, as the movies often portray. Why would someone spend days trying to crack your accountant’s password when they can simply call your IT desk pretending to be your accountant and ask him to reset it to something new?
Having an up-to-date anti-virus deployed on all of your desktops and servers is vital. An unprotected computer is an easy target for a motivated attacker. Don’t make it easy on them—pay for anti-virus and make sure it’s regularly updated by your IT staff.
It’s important that you and your employees leverage strong, complicated passwords that aren’t easy to guess. There are now hacking applications you can plug into a computer that will run through the most common 10,000 passwords used in about four minutes, trying each of them. You’d be surprised how many folks with access to critical data have the password of “password,” or if they are feeling clever, “password1.” (Did I just guess your password? Go change it!)
Secure Your Networks
I don’t want to get too technical in this article; just know that having a firewall between your corporate network and the internet is very important. If you don’t, there is very little stopping someone from freely accessing your data.
Secure Your Cloud
No matter what cloud provider or service you use, make sure you do your due diligence on their security practices. If they can’t easily and quickly tell you how your data is secured, odds are it isn’t. Also, for any accounts used to access your firm’s data, make sure you have strong passwords and only access it via a computer you own or trust. If you access your cloud on an infected machine, a hacker could potentially learn your password and use it later on without your knowledge.
Protect Your Banking Information
Make sure that all financial data, accounts, and records are kept secure and segregated from the rest of your firm’s general shared drives. If financial transactions are conducted electronically, ensure they are done over an encrypted connection, and that your employees never email account numbers, credit card information, or sensitive financial documents.
One of the most common types of breaches we’re now seeing involves “ransomware” attacks. Instead of “stealing” data from your organization, these attackers find your critical data and then encrypt it (digitally locking you out of it)—making it so only the person with the digital “key” can unlock and access that data. The hackers then offer the victim access to the “key” for a very large fee. If you’re hit with one of these attacks, you have two options: Pay the fee or restore the locked data from a recent backup. This is why backups are so important. Over the past year a very large hospital, a police department, and a public school (along with literally thousands of other victims) have been forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars to get their data back.
Making sure your data is backed and stored separately from your main repository can help protect you from attacks such as these.
This one is self-explanatory, but you’d be surprised how much client data is left lying around the office. Ensure your partners, paralegals, and finance team lock away any sensitive documents when they aren’t working with them.
While they are a convenience and increase productivity of the staff, mobile devices mean that your clients’ sensitive data can potentially walk out your firm’s door without you ever knowing it. Make sure that all mobile devices used to access corporate data have passwords (your email server can force this requirement), and if you have employees that use laptops, you should look at having the hard drives for those machines encrypted. Most modern operating systems have encryption built in (you just have to enable the feature), and it’s foolish not to leverage it. If an employee accidentally leaves a laptop on a plane or in the back of a taxi, you’ll be guaranteed that all data on it is secure and protected.
The legal profession, your brand, and your bottom line depend on the trust you develop with your clients. Handling the items listed above will go a long way in protecting all three.