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Ed BoalMay-08 20243 min read

Navigating cyber security threats in the legal sector

Ed Boal writes in The Legal Technologist about the escalating cyber security threats facing law firms and shares his thoughts on how law firms can protect themselves effectively. 


In an era of escalating cyber threats, safeguarding client information has become an imperative for law firms. With a staggering 75% of UK law firms encountering a cyber-attack in the past year - a statistic corroborated by the National Cyber Security Centre's 2023 report - cyber crimes against law firms are increasing at an alarming rate. 

Recent data breaches in the legal sector, such as the recent attack on specialist infrastructure service provider CTS which affected over 80 law firms, underscores the vulnerability of businesses entrusted with sensitive client data and the evolving sophistication of attackers.  

This threat is advancing quickly, with the increasing accessibility of tooling to bad actors. Malware-as-a-Service (MaaS), for example, is a criminal service where cyber attackers 'rent' ready-made malicious software and hardware to carry out their cyber-attacks. Now, even those without the technical knowledge are able to launch an attack, which is contributing to the volume of attacks law firms are now experiencing.   

The potential consequences of cyber-attacks are stark and lead not just to financial losses, but also profound reputational damage and potential lawsuits stemming from compromised client information. As a result, the reliance on external security providers is growing, and there is a need for law firms to invest in robust processes that secure client data and funds. We’re already seeing this in top law firms, with Allen & Overy recently hiring a team of cyber security experts to work with clients to handle cyber incidents and manage data risks. 

Cyber-attacks are becoming more damaging 

In response to the growing cyber threat landscape, law firms must prioritise investment in employee training on basic security hygiene and social engineering attacks, update cyber security measures, and revise incident response plans to mitigate the risk and severity of an attack. Unfortunately, some law firms still rely on outdated methods and overlook modern cybersecurity practices. A study revealed that over 80% of top UK law firms run services with known vulnerabilities - this adherence to outdated methods leaves legal entities exposed to severe consequences, emphasising the urgent need for a shift towards more advanced and proactive cybersecurity strategies. 

The repercussions of a successful cyber-attack are substantial, with the potential theft of sensitive client information leading to profound financial and reputational damage. The alarming cost of cyber crime, which is expected to reach $10 trillion annually by 2025, underscores the tangible impact of insufficient cyber security measures. Traditionalist approaches leave firms exposed, while proactive preparation is key to mitigating damage and preserving client trust. 

The latest developments in cyber security  

The legal sector's embrace of Artificial Intelligence (AI) presents both opportunities and risks. While AI offers significant potential for improving service delivery, it also creates new attack vectors.  

This has been corroborated by a new assessment by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which found that AI is already being used in malicious cyber activity, and is expected to increase the volume and frequency of cyber attacks in the next two years. By lowering the barrier of entry to novice cyber criminals, AI enables relatively unskilled threat actors to carry out more effective access and information-gathering operations.   

Fortunately, AI itself can also be a powerful weapon in a firm’s cyber arsenal. Advanced threat detection and analysis powered by AI can identify malicious activities, prevent data loss, and enable rapid response to incidents. Automated incident response systems powered by AI can react in real-time, minimising the impact of an attack and safeguarding sensitive data.  

Prioritising cyber security to succeed in a digital world 

Embracing the digital era goes beyond mere adoption; it requires a holistic commitment to cybersecurity. Beyond the rudimentary elements of awareness training, access controls, encryption measures, and regular software updates, law firms should foster a culture of cybersecurity resilience. This involves continuous adaptation to emerging threats, fostering collaboration with cybersecurity experts, and integrating technologies that not only secure sensitive data but also contribute to an evolving defence strategy. 

In today's climate, the imperative is to proactively thwart cyber threats. As such, continued success in the legal sector hinges on the alignment of technological benefits with robust security measures. By cultivating a cybersecurity stance that adapts to the ever-changing threat landscape, law firms can protect themselves effectively against potential cyber attacks and other evolving threats. 


This article was first published in The Legal Technologist. Read the article inside the March/April 2024 magazine edition here.


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Ed Boal

Ed Boal is Head of Legal at Shieldpay.