Protecting Attorney Client Privilege in the Internet Era
By Richard Blech
In the digital age, international corporations have learned the importance of beefing up their network security and have invested heavily in protecting their data from prying eyes. Unfortunately, the law firms that serve these companies appear to be seriously lagging behind in their efforts to keep their clients’ information secure. Files held by lawyers are extremely vulnerable to hacking by foreign governments, competitors and opposing counsel. Recent reports have cited the gaping holes in the data security measures that are currently in place in legal services firms. Understanding the importance of implementing high level security protection is an essential element of working in today’s digital jungle.
Assessing the Threats: Who Are the Hackers and What Do They Want?
Most law firms never assume that they would be a target of choice for a hacker. The fact is while the well protected corporate client may hold sought after trade secrets in proprietary data, their lawyers provide a convenient back door to access this precious information. Client communications and patent documents are an extremely valuable prize for a hacker looking for insights into the client’s business secrets. Hackers working for a government or rival company can gain an easy step up on a firm’s client, while a freelance hacker can sell the information to the highest bidder.
Addressing the Problem: Why Are Law Firms Vulnerable and How Can They Protect Themselves
Among the variety of challenges facing the greater effort to make law firms more secure against hackers are a lack of resources and an unwillingness to promote change across the industry. The most blaring issue that has been cited is that most legal firms have not seriously invested in strengthening their digital defenses. Experts on the topic have pointed out that, on the whole, legal groups do not have the budget to put in place the state of the art defenses required to fight off hackers. Even if they have made advancements in this area, they remain easier targets than their corporate clients who are far more prepared to take on experienced hackers.
The second problem that is pervasive in the industry is that law firms are loathe to admit that they have a problem. Lawyers have a strong interest in not making these attacks public. A scandal caused by a break in could be ruinous for a firm if clients lose faith in its ability to keep their secrets safe. Change will only come when it is recognized across the sector that the threat of hacking is real, and this will likely only come after such cases come to light. Until then, it is up to individual firms to properly assess their risks and take action to protect themselves and their clients.
Law firm partners as well as other industry decision makers need to realize the cost of their brand value and client confidence should a breach occur. Technology does have the answers for protecting the digital ecosystem, it’s time for security to be the first thought, rather than the reactionary afterthought.
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