Recognising and Mitigating Today’s Cyber Threats to Law Firms

We look at the headline issues highlighted by the National Cyber Security Centre’s report examining the cyber threats to the UK legal sector, and how law firms ought to approach, and respond to them.

No law firm is immune from cyber criminals, whatever the level of resources they throw at managing and minimising the risks. A new report from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has laid bare the threats to today’s law firms, but perhaps more importantly, highlights how firms can protect themselves.

The Law Society and the SRA were involved in the compilation of the report which highlights the most significant cyber security threats to law firms.

As law firms continues to adopt the latest information technology, it’s no surprise that there is a correlating rise in cyber threats. The NCSC report aims to help law firms in their understanding of the existing cyber security threats and the extent to which the legal sector is being targeted.

Reported incidents are on the rise, with 60% of law firms reporting an information security incident in the last year (according to PricewaterhouseCoopers). The SRA reports that more than £11 million of client money was stolen because of cybercrime in 2016-17. And it’s not just the financial cost to firms: the reputational damage can take a long time to recover from.

What are the main risks?
The primary threat to the UK legal sector, says the Report, stems from cyber criminals with a financial motive, but there has also been a rise in nation state actors and so-called hacktivists targeting foreign law firms. Four particularly significant threats firms are highlighted:

  • Phishing – particularly common in conveyancing. The SRA details 110 scams against law firms by mid-2018
  • Data breaches – these tend to be more targeted, and law firms with politically or commercially sensitive clients are likely to be at a higher risk of data breach than a local high street firm
  • Ransomware - which causes massive business disruption (as DLA Piper found in 2017 when it was hit by a variant of the Peta malware)
  • Supply chain compromise – the greatest issue, according to the Report, being a third-party supplier failing to adequately secure the systems holding your sensitive data

The NCS is keen to encourage firms to adopt “cyber security best practice”, and firms will really benefit from taking note of the practical guidance in the Report on how they can protect their practice. This includes:

  • How to report a cyber attack and to whom
  • How to mitigate against phishing attacks, data breaches, malware and threats to law firms in a supply chain
  • Small business guide actions
  • Cyber security information sharing: UK-based law firms are now able to sign up to a new, private CiSP group tailored to their needs
  • The Cyber Essentials government scheme: this if for all firms - from sole practitioners to international corporate firms. The scheme will help you avoid the consequences of malware, ransomware and phishing attacks, and sets out 5 easy to implement controls

An underlying problem highlighted by the report is that many firms consider cyber security as an IT issue “rather than the strategic risk management issue it actually is”. By taking the right approach, implementing the tools for best practice highlighted in the Report, firms can proactively mitigate the on-going cyber risks to their systems and processes and protect their firm from criminals.

The full report can be downloaded here



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