Commercial IT Services: Cybercrime is hitting firms like yours. Don’t be an easy target.

The risk of cybercrime is a growing concern for the legal sector says Craig Tomes, senior business development manager at Commercial IT Services. Holding sensitive data and significant sums of client money, law firms are a tempting target for IT scammers and hijackers. The repercussions for those falling victim to these attacks can be significant, ranging from reputation damage to financial costs and legal liability.

Cybercrime is such a pressing issue that the Solicitors Regulatory Authority repeatedly highlights the dangers in its Risk Outlook reports for compliance officers. But what is the best way to counter the problem? How can you plan and invest effectively for a threat that could strike tomorrow but might not emerge for the next two years?

Know your enemy

Cybercrime takes many forms, however there are two very common types of attack that many legal firms have been impacted by: ransomware and phishing. Understanding what they are and how they work is the first step to building a solid line of defence.

Ransomware essentially holds your systems ‘ransom’. It involves a third party encrypting and thus locking files across your IT systems, then demanding payment to restore them. This is a scenario that has become all too common, with more than half of UK businesses hit in the past 12 months. It can result in a total blackout of systems that takes many hours to rectify.

According to UK figures published by IT security software company TrendMicro, the average ransom demand is £540. Around two thirds of businesses do actually pay up. However, if your practice is hit, don’t assume that this represents a quick and easy way out of the problem. It stands to reason that cybercriminals are not to be trusted, and many companies that pay find their data is still not returned.

While ransomware can result in significant downtime and data loss, falling victim to phishing can be even more damaging from a financial and reputational standpoint. One infamous example of this practice associated with the legal sector is ‘Friday afternoon fraud’. Sophisticated criminal gangs target conveyancing monies held by law firms, masquerading as a representative from a bank’s counter fraud team to elicit online security information. The SRA recently reported that this was the most prevalent form of cybercrime in the legal sector during 2016.

Countering the threat

When it comes to cybercrime, prevention is the best medicine. However much you invest in technology, it won’t be effective in isolation. Human behaviour is the weak point of any security strategy, so engaging staff plays a vital role. But how do you strike a balance between technology and training, and where do you start?

The cornerstone of an effective cyber defence strategy is a realistic and accurate baseline assessment of existing technical architecture, policies and procedures. This can be overlaid with information about cyber risks most relevant to the legal sector – such as Friday afternoon fraud. Together, these insights can inform decisions about how and when to invest in technologies, planning and training.

Four key elements of cybercrime risk reduction

Tomes concluded that there is no magic shield to prevent cybercrime. But he says law firms can take proactive steps to reduce their vulnerability and minimise the negative impact if an attack occurs. An intelligent approach comprises four key elements:

1. IT operations process improvements

2. New security technologies to intercept threats

3. Cyber incident response and business recovery/continuity plans

4. User awareness

The fact is that cybercrime has become one of the big issues of our time. In the face of this, cyber defence strategies do need to become more sophisticated. However, simple measures – such as regularity and integrity of backings as well as service recovery time – should not be overlooked.

Cybersecurity is an ongoing journey. There is no room for complacency, even for firms that can afford to invest in state-of-the-art IT security technologies. For professional criminals, cybercrime represents a lucrative business. And like all professionals they hone their skills and continually innovate to help maximise their gains.

Falling victim to cybercrime can leave any law firm severely shaken. In 2017, make it a priority to understand your practice’s vulnerabilities and devise a proportionate response.

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