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4 Steps To Create a Comprehensive Cyber Security Policy for Your Law Firm

by Vivan Marwaha

In 2022, the average cost of a data breach globally was $4.35 million, an all-time high. In the United States, the average cost was more than double that number – $9.44 million per breach. Data breaches are becoming increasingly common and expensive. Given the sensitivity of data that legal professionals handle, their heightened professional responsibilities to protect confidentiality, and the privileged nature of legal communications (including attorney-client privilege), it is extremely important for law firms to institute comprehensive information security policies and use the most secure technologies to conduct their workflows.

Client data comes in all forms and formats, from emails to cloud-based ESI collected from communication and collaboration apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams. As this sensitive data is hosted electronically, custodians of this confidential information must ensure they’re prioritizing data protection and storing their files in the most secure environments using processes that minimize risk and data breaches. 

Every other month, we get headlines about a major law firm facing a breach of client data. Here are four steps you can implement to protect yourself and your client information:

1. Create and Implement an Acceptable Use Policy 

Nearly 75% of security breaches occur because of basic user errors made by insiders. Easy passwords or lack of two-factor authentication are low hanging fruit for hackers to take advantage. Law firms therefore need to draft an acceptable use policy (AUP) that clearly states and outlines the steps employees must follow when using the firm’s network, software, hardware, and mobile devices. It should be a clear and easy-to-follow plan that directly addresses whether employees should or should not use both firm-provided technology and their own personal devices such as mobile phones or tablets. A sample AUP can be found here.

Doing so ensures that employees clearly understand their responsibilities when using technology and also helps make them proactively identify potential cybersecurity threats. An AUP must also be accompanied by training for employees to ask questions, and fully learn how to implement the right procedures to safeguard themselves and firm data. Regular training sessions, upon hiring and at predetermined intervals should be conducted as data risks evolve.

2. Adopt Cloud-Native Technology

The legal industry is in the midst of moving to the cloud. Legal teams increasingly recognize the cloud as the dominant means of storing data and conducting legal operations, due its speed, scalability, and its security. In fact, a resounding 96% of legal professionals have cited the cloud as the norm for ediscovery. Legal solutions built on and for the cloud are considerably more secure than on-premises networks which require maintenance teams to perform vulnerability checks and system upgrades. As updates to cloud solutions are automatically deployed, cloud-native platforms are always up to date with the latest patches and upgrades against vulnerabilities. Legal teams can therefore inherit the robust, cutting-edge security from cloud-native platforms, many of which offer round-the-clock breach monitoring and do not require users to rely on systems administrators or outside vendors for security upgrades. 

Many legal software companies have in-house teams dedicated to monitoring risk and staying ahead of cybersecurity threats to ensure their information technology (IT) infrastructure is secure and safe from data breaches and hackers. Some of these platforms are FedRAMP and StateRAMP certified, providing the highest level of security and protection for public sector agencies. Providers who have achieved these certifications have demonstrated strong commitments to data security, which goes beyond public sector data. Therefore, it is important to vet vendors carefully and only select providers of legal technology that are certified with industry standards so you can inherit those security measures. Some of these credentials include Soc 2 Type 2, FedRAMP, StateRAMP, ISO 27001, and ISO 27017. With the growing global footprint of legal work and the vast amounts of personal data and private information being collected, it is also important to select vendors that support compliance with HIPAA and European GDPR regulatory requirements.

3. Conduct Regular Security Assessments

In addition to implementing AUPs and adopting modern technology, it’s important for law firms to conduct regular security audits to ensure that their plans are working. A security audit is a comprehensive assessment of an organization’s security procedures and processes. It scrutinizes defenses in workplace applications, digital networks, employee tools, and information storage facilities to determine if appropriate controls are in place and security policies are being followed. If conducted periodically, it may expose unforeseen vulnerabilities that can then be addressed and fixed. Usually, it is wise to get a third party to conduct this assessment, in order to get a new set of eyes and shine light on inefficiencies and risks.

These are purely preventive measures intended to provide internal feedback loops and create potential areas of improvement in data security. See this useful checklist to help ensure that key steps in a security assessment are being met.

4. Devise an Incident Response Plan

Finally, in the unfortunate incident that a security breach does occur, it is extremely important to have an incident response plan in place. An effective incident response plan will catch and address the data breach early in order to minimize damage, risk, and cost.

Some key components of an incident response plan include:

  • Preparation: Designate an incident response planning team and allocate them the power to take necessary measures in order to address and mitigate the incident. Put together a list of IT assets including networks, applications, and servers and identify the ones which hold critical or sensitive information. Monitor them continuously to establish a baseline of normal activity, and create comprehensive response plans when abnormal activity occurs.

  • Detection and Analysis: Collect data on your IT systems and analyze abnormal activity. This can be accomplished using Endpoint Detection and Response tools which alert security teams of malicious activity on workstations, servers, or mobile devices. Investigate these suspicious episodes, classify the extent of these incidents, and report on them. Escalate them if necessary.

  • Contain, Eradicate, and Remove: Stop or contain the incident. Identify the attacker’s IP address, patch the threat’s entry point, eradicate it from your systems, and recover any lost data.

  • Post-Incident Reporting and Mitigation: Write a detailed report on the incident, focusing on the actions performed (and the reasons for undertaking them) and stakeholders involved. Compile all information related to the incident, including the initial factors that led up to the security incident, vulnerabilities created or linked to the incident, detailed description of the incident, and activity log with all work notes, response tasks, and activities. Once compiled, appropriately circulate to involved parties. Devise new strategies to stop such attacks from occurring again and mitigate future risks. 

More resources on incident response plans and the different frameworks to approach their planning and implementation can be found here.

Proactive Cyber Security

Don’t let your team become another statistic as hackers and cyber criminals continue to escalate their phishing schemes and data breaches.

A strong data protection and cybersecurity policy, complemented by modern, cloud-native technology for legal operations, regular security audits, and an incident response plan are the best ways to secure your data and keep your client’s trust as the scope and scale of cyber attacks continue to evolve.

To learn more about Everlaw’s modern cloud-native technology and industry-leading security controls, request a meeting here.