Legal professionals take note: your firm is a potential target for cyber criminals. Recently, three Chinese citizens have been charged in the United States with insider trading activities based on information obtained through breaching multiple law firms. This fact illuminates that law firms are a prime target for cyber attackers. Given the nature of communication and documents that often comprise legal work product, it comes as no surprise that the same information can be used for financial gain if it falls into the hands of an unscrupulous party. Regardless of the type of cases handled by a firm, the resulting communication and work product could be useful to an attacker. For those firms working in mergers and acquisitions, the work product potentially becomes even more valuable.
The previously mentioned attack leading to insider trading activities was allegedly made possible through hacking into law firms and mining for information related to buyouts and other useful data for insider trading. To some, this comes as no surprise. Leveraging the wealth of information maintained by law firms, particularly those dealing with large corporations, is a natural and potentially lucrative avenue for cyber attackers. In Spring 2016, dozens of law firms were targeted by Russian hackers in an effort to obtain confidential information to be used for insider trading. It is clear that law firms are an enticing target for cyber criminals. Information technology and security may not be a focal point of law school, but it is a vital piece of protecting the information entrusted to law firms by their clients.
Simply put, law firms produce and store data that is often of great interest to cyber criminals. Whether it is information regarding an upcoming merger, bankruptcy, patent, or any other intellectual property, the type of data generated at law firms can be extremely valuable to attackers looking to profit from confidential information. Consider the attackers vantage point: breaching the security and gaining access to a specific corporation may yield fruitful information, but the effort and time involved in successfully hacking the company typically results in information about a single organization. If the same effort were applied to carrying out a successful cyber attack on a law firm, hackers could potentially gain access to confidential information regarding a multitude of companies in a single attack. To defend themselves, firms must take action through implementation and proper execution of cyber security policies and procedures.
It is imperative that law firms recognize the risk of a cyber attack and take appropriate actions to mitigate the chances of a data breach. There are numerous technology controls such as firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems, anti-virus, and sophisticated log aggregation and monitoring tools. While all of these are important and useful in their own right, it is the user that can play the most significant role in preventing or unwittingly facilitating a cyber attack. Users are more easily manipulated and coerced than firewalls and other technical measures, and must therefore be aware of the types of threats they are likely to encounter and trained on spotting issues and mitigating the successfulness of an attack.
A technique known as spear phishing is one of the most common methods attackers use to gain unauthorized entry into an organization. In a spear phishing attack, a very targeted email is sent to a specific party in hopes that the recipient will click a link within the email, opening a malicious attachment, or otherwise unintentionally degrade the security of the system enough to allow the attacker access. Spear phishing emails often contain seemingly personalized information, addressed to the correct recipient and perhaps referencing a past event the recipient spoke at or attended. Providing these types of details is an attempt to implicitly build trust with the recipient and detract from the true nefarious purpose of the message. In some cases, attacks like these can be blocked using technical controls. However, if not blocked by an email filter or other technical control, it is up to the recipient of the message to make the final determination on whether or not to complete the call-to-action urged in the email. This is where user awareness and training pay off. Users that are trained on spotting spear phishing attempts and other common scams can help a law firm prevent data breaches by blocking the initial effort of a cyber criminal.
Regardless of the security controls, policies, and procedures that a firm chooses to implement, it is clear that law firms are and will continue to be a target of cyber criminals. The recent charges filed against three Chinese citizens for allegedly hacking into law firms and leveraging confidential data to make millions off trades based on the stolen data is unlikely to be the only one of its kind. The valuable data held at law firms paints a target on the back of firms across the country. If your firm is lagging behind on its cyber security practices, now is the time to catch up. Protecting the information bestowed to firms by their clients extends well beyond the confines of the courtroom and into the digital realm of networks, data, and hackers looking to take advantage of vulnerable systems.
Jason Hale is a Digital Forensic Examiner at One Source Discovery who specializes in incident response. Jason has a Master’s degree in Digital Forensics and holds the Certified Computer Examiner (CCE) designation from the International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners and the GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA) designation from the Global Information Assurance Certification.