Cyber threats faced by the legal sector

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Cyber threats faced by the legal sector

The legal sector is experiencing a particularly significant rise in the risk of cyber attacks. Law firms suffer losses of millions each year due to breaches in cyber security, as well as the loss of client trust due to confidentiality being broken. The legal sector is unable to ignore the importance of understanding and addressing vulnerabilities any longer, this is an industry that can’t possibly afford to suffer security breaches so maintaining excellent cyber safety is key.  

What Makes the Legal Sector such a Desirable Target? 

There are several reasons why the legal industry is so high up on the list of potential targets for cyber criminals, so let's take a look at some of the most prominent. 

First and foremost an obvious and key reason that a hacker may target the legal market is for financial gain. The U.K. Legal market is worth around £37 billion, it’s no wonder hackers target law firms. The legal sector is home to vast amounts of confidential client and corporate data that cyber criminals can gain profit from by selling it on the dark web or holding the data to ransom in exchange for large quantities of money. Law firms handle huge amounts of money and client data every day through a range of online activities such as bank transfers and emails, putting them at risk of a breach.  

Second, an easy target with a huge reward is a hacker's dream.  With many legal firms still using outdated IT systems and being slow in the process of upgrading, they can be an easy target for hackers. Without understanding where risks lie and no proper means of defence, it is relatively straightforward for threat actors to breach a system or inject malware

Common Attack Strategies 

The most common method used by hackers to breach legal firms is through phishing emails. They have become much more sophisticated in their techniques in recent years and are able to trick unsuspecting employees into clicking on malicious links and attachments. As a relatively easy attack strategy and a lucrative one as well it is no wonder why it is a popular method for hackers. 

Business email compromise is another type of phishing attack commonly used against law firms; however it is much more serious. This type of attack involves hackers infiltrating the company’s email system and posing as an employee, usually of high status, and sending emails to other employees and clients. The recipient then sees the email assuming that it is from someone legitimate and then likely acting on what is requested of them.  Often, a hacker’s success relies on an inside mistake. Although there can be malicious insiders, it is usually someone who has been tricked by methods such as this. 

Ransomware is another key attack vector as cyber criminals know how valuable data is to legal practices, particularly when a case is especially sensitive. Firms are however advised not to engage with threat actors if a ransomware attack strikes because there is no guarantee that once the ransom demand is met that the hackers won’t just sell the data or put it online or even give it back at all.  A ransomware group known as Maze targeted five law firms in February 2020 and demanded $1 million in ransom but they still released stolen data online.  

The Impact 

An attack on a legal practice can be disruptive in many ways. There are the financial costs of an unfortunately paid ransom, regulatory fines and business costs due to the downtime of the company. There is also the impact on market shares due to data loss. However there are losses other than the financial setbacks, such as damage to the firm's client relationships and reputation. If a legal practice suffers a data breach it sends a message to their clients, partners and suppliers that they are not a secure business and data is not being protected well enough. Some may terminate contracts with an affected company due to lack of trust and choose to work with a different legal firm.  

Combating Threats 

In order to ensure that legal businesses are able to function without the constant threat of a breach looming over them it is important for firms to analyse their security and have safeguards in place should a cyber attack take place. Plenty of resources are available to combat cyber threats such as AI security systems, which can detect even the most subtle of suspicious activity that would go otherwise unnoticed. Artificial Intelligence in conjunction with an expert cyber security team is one of the best ways to combat cyber crime.  

Employee training is something that should be stressed in every industry, make sure that employees can only access confidential data for work purposes and that they use multi-factor authentication when accessing sensitive material. Also it’s important to make sure firms know who they are employing, doing a proper background check and vetting potential employees is especially important. Cultivating a general awareness of cyber security is another way to ensure that employees remain vigilant and proactive and are ready to respond should an attack occur. 

In following these steps businesses should be able to create an environment that is able to protect itself from compromise and ready to do what is necessary should a breach in security occur.

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