Cybersecurity threats

As a law firm, you deal with highly sensitive client information on a daily basis. It’s thus imperative to protect this information from cyber threats. 

However, cybersecurity is obviously a daunting subject for businesses outside the IT field.

In this post, we discuss some of the top cybersecurity threats facing South African lawyers and law firms today. Our aim is to provide you with actionable information that you can use to better protect your firm and client information.

Don’t Let Your Size Fool You: Small Firms ARE Targeted by Cyber Attacks

Despite what some may believe, many cybercriminals don’t discriminate based on the size of a business. It’s a common misconception that small law firms are not at risk of cyberattacks because they don’t have as much data as larger firms. However, this is simply not true.

In fact, small and medium-sized businesses are often seen as more vulnerable targets for cyberattacks. Here’s why:

  • Access to sensitive client data: Even a small law firm has access to valuable information, such as financial records, personal data, and legal documents. This makes them a prime target for cybercriminals who can use this information for financial gain, blackmail, or identity theft.
  • Weaker security measures: Small law firms do not have the same budget and level of cybersecurity measures in place as larger organisations. This can include outdated software, weak passwords, and a lack of employee training on cybersecurity best practices.
  • Easy entry points: Cybercriminals may target small law firms as a way to gain access to larger organisations that the law firm does business with. For example, if a small law firm has access to a larger company’s network, cybercriminals may use this as a gateway to launch a more significant attack.

Seven Types of Cybersecurity Threats Facing The South African Legal Industry

(1) Ransomware

Ransomware  is a form of malicious software that encrypts a victim’s data, making them inaccessible until a ransom is paid to the attacker. According to The Verizon Business 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report, ransomware attacks are increasing at an alarming rate – faster than the previous five years combined. 

To protect yourself from ransomware attacks, it is recommended that your law firm:

·       Regularly back up your files and data to a secure location that is not connected to your network or device.

·       Keep your software and operating systems up-to-date with the latest patches and security updates.

·       Be wary of suspicious emails, attachments, and links, especially from unknown senders.

·       Use a reputable antivirus program and keep it updated.

A devasting example of a ransomware attack occurred in 2017 when WannaCry ransomware infected hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide, causing widespread damage and disruption to businesses and governments. Learn about major ransomware attacks in South Africa.

(2) Data Breaches

A data breach occurs when a cyber attacker gains unauthorised access to sensitive data, such as personal information, financial data, or intellectual property. Data breaches can result in financial loss, legal liability, and damage to a business’s reputation. Law firms are particularly at risk

To protect against data breaches, it is recommended that your law firm:

Data Breaches in South Africa: What You Need To Know

(3) Man-in-the-Middle Attack

A man-in-the-middle attack (MitM) involves an attacker intercepting communications between two parties, allowing them to eavesdrop, steal data, or modify the communication. This type of attack is especially common when using public Wi-Fi networks like at hotels, airports, coffee shops, and the like. 

To protect against MitM attacks, it is recommended that law firm employees:

  • Use a virtual private network (VPN) when accessing public Wi-Fi or other public networks.
  • Verify the authenticity of websites and email senders before providing any sensitive information.
  • Avoid accessing sensitive data or accounts on public networks.

An example of a MitM attack occurred in 2011 when the Dutch certificate authority DigiNotar suffered a breach that allowed attackers to issue fraudulent certificates for popular websites, such as Google and Yahoo. This allowed the attackers to intercept and modify communications between users and these websites. The attack bankrupted the business, and they were forced to close their doors permanently.

(4) Outdated Software Vulnerabilities

These occur when security vulnerabilities in outdated software versions are exploited by attackers to gain unauthorised access or steal data. 

To protect against outdated software vulnerabilities, it is recommended that your law firm:

  • Keep your software and operating systems up-to-date with the latest patches and security updates.
  • Use a reputable antivirus program and keep it updated.
  • Limit access to sensitive data and devices only to those who need it.
  • Use firewalls and other security measures to prevent unauthorised access.

An example of an outdated software vulnerability occurred in 2017 when the Equifax data breach exposed the personal information of millions of Americans due to a vulnerability in outdated software.

(5) Phishing Attacks

Phishing attacks are a type of social engineering in which an attacker attempts to trick a user into divulging sensitive information, such as login credentials or financial information. 

These attacks are often carried out via email and can be difficult to detect. For protection, it’s important to be wary of unsolicited emails and to verify the authenticity of any requests for sensitive information.

What is Phishing?

(6) Insider Threats

Insider threats occur when a current or former employee, contractor, or another trusted individual with access to sensitive data or systems intentionally or unintentionally causes harm to IT security. 

This can include stealing data, sabotaging systems, or installing malware. To protect against insider threats, it’s important to implement access controls, mitigate shadow IT, monitor user activity, and train employees on proper data handling procedures.

(7) Cloud-based Threats

Many law firms rely on cloud-based services to some extent, either a private cloud or via a vendor like Microsoft Azure, for data storage and collaboration. These services can also be vulnerable to cyber threats, including data breaches and ransomware attacks.

To protect against cloud-based threats, it is important to choose reputable cloud service providers, encrypt sensitive data, and implement access controls and monitoring.

On Premise vs Cloud Computing: Which is best for your business?

Contributed by:
Ridwaan Docrat
Managing Member, iSite Computers


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