Top 7 Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities Law Firms Face
Law firms are held to a high ethical standard when it comes to protecting client data. While modern IT solutions have made many areas of the practice of law easier, they have also introduced new challenges. One of those challenges is learning how to avoid cybersecurity vulnerabilities that can lead to data breaches.
Because of the extreme sensitivity and high value of the data they process, law firms are often a target for cyberattacks. So, it’s important to close any and all cybersecurity vulnerabilities before an attacker can take advantage of one.
What is a cybersecurity vulnerability? More importantly, what can you do to eliminate these vulnerabilities and maximize your firm’s data security?
What Is a Cybersecurity Vulnerability?
A cybersecurity vulnerability is any flaw in an organization’s IT assets, processes, or infrastructure that can be exploited by malicious actors to gain unauthorized access to systems or cause disruptions to key IT services.
What Differentiates Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities from Risks and Threats?
A cybersecurity vulnerability is an internal problem for a law firm’s IT infrastructure or processes. This is different from cybersecurity risks and threats, which can be defined as:
- Cybersecurity Risk. This is a measure of how likely a cybersecurity breach of some kind is to happen—and possibly how damaging such an event would be. This is related to cybersecurity vulnerabilities since weaknesses in IT security can increase cybersecurity risks.
- Cybersecurity Threat. This is the term for anything that generates a cybersecurity breach risk—whether it be a specific piece of malware, a hacker, or a malicious internal user. Cybersecurity threats leverage vulnerabilities to breach an organization’s security.
So, while cybersecurity threats and risks are closely related to vulnerabilities, they are very distinct terms and should not be used interchangeably.
7 Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities Law Firms Need to Know
One of the best ways to improve law firm security for your IT infrastructure is to identify your biggest cybersecurity vulnerabilities and eliminate them (or add security tools that specifically address them). Knowing what the most common or highest-risk vulnerabilities that law firms face are can help you get a head start on your vulnerability remediation efforts.
With that in mind, here’s a short list of some common cybersecurity vulnerabilities that your law firm might need to fix ASAP:
1. Ex-Staff with Active User Accounts
It’s an unfortunate fact of business in any industry: eventually, the people who work in or with your firm may have to leave. Regardless of the reason for leaving (dismissal, voluntary churn, retirement, illness, etc.), it’s important for law firms to revoke the access privileges of anyone who isn’t currently working for or with the firm.
Why? Because ex-staff are a huge source of cyber threats and pose an enormous security risk to your law firm. How big of a risk are insider threats? According to techjury.net, “more than 34% of businesses around the globe are affected by insider threats” on a yearly basis.
Ex-employees, partners, and other staff are a higher cybersecurity risk than current employees largely because they’ve already severed ties with the law firm. So, they’re more likely to abuse their access privileges for personal profit (or just to harm the firm)—especially if they parted on less-than-amicable terms.
Even when people leave the firm on good terms, it’s important to revoke their user access privileges as soon as possible. This not only removes temptation on the part of the ex-employee: but it also makes it so that an outside actor cannot hijack the old user account and abuse it to breach your firm’s cybersecurity.
2. Under-Trained IT Users in the Firm
Not every insider threat is caused by malicious intent. Instead, some insider threats are the result of honest mistakes (or carelessness) on the part of internal users of a system. In any organization, it’s the internal users who are typically the weakest link in the data security chain.
Some examples of potential errors (both in action and judgment) that can lead to data compromise or loss include:
- Sharing Login Information. Sharing login credentials (user name and password) makes it incredibly easy to hijack a user account for malicious purposes. A common tactic of phishing cyberattack schemes is to ask for login information—often claiming to be an IT vendor or higher-up in the firm who needs them.
- Downloading Files from Unsafe Websites and Emails. When people in the firm browse non-work websites while on work computers or blindly open email attachments without checking for viruses and malware, they’re at risk of downloading malicious files that can cause a data breach.
- Accidental Data Deletion. It’s a common occurrence for a staff member to hit the wrong button or select the wrong file and delete an important digital document that needed to be preserved.
- Ignoring Safe Web Browsing Rules. Sometimes, either through ignorance or willfulness, people may ignore web browsing best practices like avoiding websites unrelated to work, always connecting using a VPN, or turning on a required browser security plug-in. This increases the risk of a breach in your law firm IT security.
- Using Personal Data Storage Devices at Work. USB drives, portable hard drives, and other data storage devices can pose a threat to your firm’s cybersecurity if they’re infected with malware. When employees/staff in the firm use personal data storage media for work, there’s an increased risk of malware being on them. Personal devices are more likely to be exposed to malware without your knowledge—especially if employees/staff don’t take basic precautions at home.
These are just a few of the potential actions or errors in judgment that can lead to a loss of data or data being accessed by unauthorized individuals. Providing training to your firm’s staff can be invaluable for minimizing the risk of these mistakes.
3. Unknown IT Assets on the Network
Keeping up to date with the latest security patches for the software and devices that your firm uses is crucial for minimizing data breach risks. However, if you have software and hardware on your network that you don’t know about, how can you keep it up to date?
The short answer is that you can’t. Unknown IT assets on your network may create cybersecurity vulnerabilities because they’re unpatched and unmonitored—making it easier for cybercriminals to exploit these assets without you finding out about the breach.
This is why it’s important to create a comprehensive map of all your law firm’s IT assets. This makes managing your legal IT assets easier so you can avoid having unpatched or outdated assets on your network.
4. Lack of Data Encryption
Data encryption doesn’t typically prevent a cybersecurity breach, but it does help to minimize the effects of a breach by preventing cybercriminals from being able to read the data they’ve accessed. When cybercrooks get access to unencrypted data, they’re able to put it to immediate use—which makes it easier for them to commit fraud, drain bank accounts, or steal identities with the stolen data.
So, a critical law firm security measure is to employ data encryption for both “data at rest” (information that’s in storage) and “data in flight” (information that is being transmitted). This way, you can potentially delay hackers from using the stolen data long enough to notify clients and engage measures to minimize the damage that can be done with the stolen information.
5. Unsecured Network Routers
Wi-Fi routers are a common element of any office network setup. However, they’re often overlooked when it comes to cybersecurity setups. It’s common for an office network to have one or more Wi-Fi routers that use their manufacturer’s default password, have a publicly listed password, or don’t require one at all to connect. Sometimes, these unsecured routers are set up for the convenience of clients so they can use their smartphones or laptops in the lobby.
However, unsecured network routers can be a major data security risk for law firms since clients aren’t the only ones who can connect to them. In some cases, a client may even try to abuse the network connection for malicious purposes.
So, it’s important to set up network routers so that they have strong passwords known only to authorized users. Also, if there are “public” Wi-Fi routers in the office, employees should be instructed to never connect workplace devices to them so they aren’t discoverable on the unsecured connection.
6. Lack of Multifactor Authentication
Multifactor authentication (MFA) is a secure access control measure that combines at least two different types of identity verification before giving a user access to a secure system. There are three types of authentication factors that can be combined in an MFA access setup: Knowledge-based, token-based, and biometrics-based factors (i.e., something you know, something you have, and something you are).
MFA is an important security measure for law firms since it helps to minimize the risk of a staff member’s access credentials being hijacked.
For example, say a partner in the firm falls for a phishing scheme and gives a scammer their username and password. If that’s the only authentication factor in use, then the scammer will have control of the partner’s user profile.
However, if there’s a multifactor authentication setup in place, the scammer would then need to either have an authentication token or pass a biometric check to hijack the partner’s account. This makes it significantly harder for the scammer to succeed.
7. Improperly Configured Network Firewalls
A network firewall is often the first line of defense against external cyber threats. Think of the firewall as a security gate separating your network from the larger internet—to get into or out of your network, traffic has to pass through the gate and undergo an inspection. There are many different types of firewalls that inspect incoming data packets at different levels. The deeper the scan, the better for network security.
To stop bad traffic, the firewall needs to be properly configured to identify data packets that comprise a security risk. However, if firewall settings are too stringent, there’s a risk of blocking even good traffic necessary for basic operations. This negatively impacts user experience and can hurt productivity.
So, it’s important to have a well-configured firewall that can block bad traffic while allowing good traffic through as needed.
Start Fixing Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities Now!
The above list presents just a few of the more common cybersecurity vulnerabilities that a law firm might have. There are countless more issues that might arise from specific combinations of software, hardware, and legal IT practices in the firm.
Need help securing your law firm’s IT infrastructure against data breaches while preserving a positive user experience? Reach out to Converged Technology to get started!