7 Ways Your Law Firm Should Protect Confidential Records

Chief Executive Officer at NetWatcher
June 08, 2016

A data breach or cyberattack can result in serious harm to your law firm – from litigation and regulatory fines to PR fiascos and furious clients. Taking steps to protect your confidential information should be a serious and obvious priority for your firm as the legal industry becomes progressively fraught with leaks, hacks and breaches.

We’ve outlined seven simple steps your law firm can take to protect its confidential data from these increasingly sophisticated technological terrorists. While this list isn’t comprehensive, they lay out seven core components of a sound security strategy at any law firm.

1. Encryption

When it comes to cybersecurity, encryption is a no-brainer. It’s a key step in protecting your confidential information, and it’s easy to do with today’s technology at your disposal, making it an obvious place to start. This includes the encryption of laptops, cell phones and tablets, as well as emails, file transfers and other communications. Many firms map to a relevant regulatory compliance framework based on their clients, such as ISO27002, NIST or FISMA. This can make all the difference if an email is leaked or a device stolen.

2. User access control

Restrict access to client-sensitive data on a need-to-know basis. Only attorneys who need to work with confidential files or folders should have access privileges. An effective access control strategy will help to minimize insider error and improve accountability; it will also make it harder for outside attackers to gain access to top-tier levels of sensitive data. Implementing two-factor authentication for all users will also help enforce increased security.

3. Routine training

End user errors are a critical cause of data breaches and successful cyberattacks. One of the most important steps you can take to protect your firm is to conduct regular trainings to ensure all attorneys and support staff are familiar with best practices on handling sensitive data. This should encompass phishing, malware and/or viruses, Internet usage and social media. It’s especially important that high-level executives or partners should not be exempted from these trainings—despite the prevailing temptation to let them sit out in favor of billing more hours.

4. Test, test, test.

If your law firm takes cybersecurity seriously, you should be regularly reviewing your activity logs to uncover potentially malicious activity and to establish a baseline of what constitutes “normal” activity within your organization. Most cyberattacks are subtle, and you may never know one has happened until a bank transfer has been made or files have been lost. In order to know immediately when something has gone wrong, you must perform routine assessments and monitoring exercises, so you can detect a threat once it emerges.

5. Trust experts

Sometimes the safest thing to do is to put things in the hands of experts. As long as you’re vetting your vendors carefully, there are many trustworthy, well-versed companies that can devote teams of people to ensuring the security of your data on offsite, encrypted servers. These teams can evaluate your current weaknesses and vulnerabilities, make recommendations for closing security gaps and upgrade your technology.

6. Approach BYOD and the cloud with caution.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies and cloud computing are often in a similar boat. While they make life easier for many attorneys, who appreciate the increased flexibility and other benefits, they can also pose tremendous risk if not handled with care.
Enforce clear and effective restrictions on mobile devices, including personal devices and remote access to company devices, and ensure that you are able to remotely “wipe” an employee’s device in case the employee leaves the firm or the device is misplaced.
Consumer cloud services rarely provide the level of security needed for client-privileged data, but many enterprise-grade vendors have entered the market. Evaluate these cloud vendors diligently to ensure they have adequate security measures, and carefully review the legal and ethical concerns that affect your storage of client data with a third party.

7. Be prepared.

Finally, one of the most crucial steps in a strong cybersecurity strategy is preparation. With increasingly inventive hackers targeting the legal industry, even law firms with the best measures in place can fall victim to a hoax or attack. An American Bar Association survey found that almost half of attorneys say their firm has no data breach response plan in place. A disaster recovery plan is essential to minimize damage and maintain business continuity, so your firm is able to rebound swiftly.