Cybersecurity Challenges and Strategies for Law Firms


Nakul Goenka

Read Time

4 Minutes

Last Updated

Oct 8, 2021

table of contents
Due to the frequency and severity of high-profile data breaches and hacks, most law firms are aware of the risks and challenges they face in securing their IT infrastructure and safeguarding client information. Law firms respond to this threat by offering advice to their clients on data privacy and cybersecurity, with some even branding it as a core offering. Internally, firms often employ a team of technical experts who help in securing their valuable assets (data) such as client information and sensitive case files.  Despite this response, most legal firms’ primary problem is figuring out how to effectively weave cybersecurity and risk mitigation practices into the fabric of their IT infrastructure. In short, the tools and practices attorneys depend on to protect and safeguard information often stand in the way of business, making them difficult to implement and use.  Although law firm data breaches are not reported as frequently in the media as other industries (or even publicly disclosed for various reasons), they remain a significant and growing threat. According to the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Survey Report 2019, 26% of respondent law firms reported having experienced a security breach. What is even more surprising is that 19% of the respondents admitted not knowing whether their firm had ever been the victim of a security breach! 

Why Are Law Firms Vulnerable to Cyber Attacks?

Law firms operate in a complex and constantly shifting environment, balancing multiple projects for clients and staffing attorneys who work on numerous clients matters simultaneously. Attorneys also conduct most of their business over emails, receiving and sharing a variety of documents with their clients. It is common for firms to establish a file transfer protocol to secure these communications, facilitating the transfer and sharing of files with clients on their network.  Unfortunately, this makes the firm more vulnerable because bad actors are aware of these dynamics and leverage them in their attack methods.  For example, hackers frequently attempt to embed malicious code in everyday business documents and mask them as normal communication. The innate relationship of trust between an attorney and the client makes it highly likely that someone would click on or try to access the infected file.  Phishing attacks can victimize law firms

Best Practices for Cyber Hygiene

When it comes to securing data, learning from previous mistakes is incredibly important. Past breaches and hacks show that a few simple measures can go a long way toward preventing attacks and securing networks. These lessons include basic cyber-hygiene practices such as: 
  1. Using complex passwords and frequently changing them  
  2. Enabling two-factor authentication for access 
  3. Restricting physical and online access to critical databases and systems to the staff on a “need to know” basis (known as the “principle of least-privilege”) 
  4. Applying required security patches promptly 
  5. Keeping software updated and current – as hackers develop new ways to penetrate your network, you must be equally diligent in shoring up your defenses. 
Failing to adopt these practices can increase the probability of a breach. A successful cyberattack on a law firm not only allows unauthorized access to or destruction of sensitive and confidential client data, but also invites regulatory action. The loss of billable hours, reputational damage, and the resulting loss of clientele can strike a debilitating blow to a firm.  Given the consequences of neglecting a firm’s cyber safety, attorneys need to think broadly about their statutory obligations to safeguard client information. While some federal, state, and local laws are directly applicable to firms, legal teams do have some leeway to determine their own obligations and risk mitigation strategies, which means attorneys must be mindful of requirements being passed onto them by clients in regulated sectors. If your client is a hospital or a medical clinic, for example, your firm could be considered a “covered entity” under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and privacy requirements under the statute may be applicable and pass through to you and your firm. 

How Technology Can Improve Security for Law Firms

While the basic security measures listed earlier make for good cyber-hygiene practices, they may not go far enough to deter a determined or sophisticated attacker. Fortunately, there are proven technology solutions that enable law firms of all sizes to protect their IT environment and safeguard client information. Here’s a look at five features of top-tier cybersecurity solutions for law firms:
  1. They make your network visible

    Strong visibility and a real-time picture of the traffic patterns between different servers, applications, and networks enable you to eliminate all blind spots in your security posture and identify any possible attack vectors in law applications. 
  2. They help you understand your risk posture

    Understand how your critical applications, such as your DMS application, are exposed to risk – both from external and internal network participants. Out-of-box network probe capability coupled with vulnerability assessment arm security teams with the necessary tools to analyze the risk posture of the network and assets. They can use this to prepare a risk mitigation plan with measurable outcomes.
  3. They simplify audits and reduce compliance cost

    Simplify audits by isolating and controlling communication within, across, and to the segmented groups under audit, thereby reducing time, resources, and operational costs of reporting and remediating the audits. 
  4. They reduce your application risk surface

    Create a clearly defined ecosystem for your applications, and ensure that only companysanctioned applications are allowed to execute – and that access is limited to required participants from authorized networks. 
  5. They lock down endpoints and protect against insider attacks

    With process-level visibility and granular control of critical servers and endpoints, insider attacks become easier to detect. Fully customizable lockdown features can make transactional servers and endpoints like laptops and desktops tamper-resistant to known as well as unknown threats like malware, ransomware, and sophisticated APT lateral threats.

Selecting the Right Cybersecurity Vendor

Law firms around the globe use ColorTokens Xtended Zero Trust Platform to fend off sophisticated attacks. ColorTokens enables firms to effortlessly meet the compliance needs of many standards and frameworks, including PCI-DSS (including the forthcoming PCI-DSS 4.0), GDPR, and CCPA. It also helps firms enforce “need to know” security with ease and provide senior partners the freedom to work on their projects while ensuring that their liability from compromise is as low as possible.   Learn more about how ColorTokens helps law firms defend against cyber threats by reading the case study: Nishith Desai Associates Implements Proactive Cybersecurity with ColorTokens.