Empty SafeLast week’s post explored why law firms need data security policies.  Before we move on, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another policy that’s absolutely crucial for the law firm’s data security posture – a records management policy, coupled with an up-to-date and legally validated records retention schedule.

What does a records retention schedule have to do with data security?  Simply this – keeping data without a legal or business reason exacerbates data security exposures.

Breached systems frequently contain many times more data than was needed for retention compliance or any valid business or operational purpose.  This unnecessary data multiplies the number of those whose confidential or protected information is compromised, and can also have exponential impact once breached, passing a tipping point on lasting reputational damage or on the economic viability of claims against the firm.

It’s not possible for a breach to compromise the security of information that no longer exists, having already been compliantly disposed of once its legally required retention and business value have expired.

But surely most every law firm has a records retention schedule in place for its records of client matters and firm administration, right?  Actually, far too few firms do.
Continue Reading Law firm data retention – they can’t hack what you no longer have

Hacker at work with Russian flag on backgroundThe indictment filed last Friday by Special Counsel Robert Mueller explains how Russian military intelligence officers hacked into computer systems of the DNC, the DCCC, and Clinton Campaign employees during the 2016 presidential race.  With sweeping, specific details that have compelled unanimous confidence among Americans (except apparently our President), the 29-page indictment is a textbook on sources and methods.  No, not intelligence-gathering sources and methods, which are of course highly classified.  Instead, the indictment catalogs the sources of data that were stolen, and the methods used by the GRU intelligence units to methodically hack into the targeted systems, exfiltrate the data, evade detection, and weaponize the data through publications timed to inflict maximum impact.

The lessons to be learned from the indictment’s allegations, summarized below, are useful to any organization serious about data security and prevention, detection, and response to hacking, whether state-sponsored or otherwise.


Continue Reading The latest Mueller indictment – what we all can learn about sources and methods

Bear Chasing MenAs explored in last week’s posts, the bad news for law firms is their challenging data security threat environment.   On the other hand, law firms that meaningfully elevate their security posture, thereby outrunning less-secure firms, can enjoy good news, including increased revenue, better-controlled expenses, and stronger client relationships.

Security risks flow from threats coupled with vulnerabilities – and when it comes to data security, law firms are uniquely vulnerable.  Understanding and countering these vulnerabilities is the key to transforming data security bad news into good news.

Why are law firms so vulnerable?

Law firms have highly valuable information.

Like any other business, firms have employee personal data, including SSNs, payroll data, and health plan data, along with financial and tax information for the firm itself and its owners.  Yet law firms also have something far more attractive than other businesses – a concentrated trove of client data, such as nonpublic issuer information; client trade secrets; confidential information on client business strategies, controversial matters and transactions, and litigation; sensitive information with reputational impact for public and private individuals and institutions; and on and on.  In addition, law firms have information and credentials that can serve as gateways to clients’ systems, through hacking or social engineering.

Many firms are behind the curve on data security safeguards. 

Despite their valuable information, many law firms are demonstrably lax in their data security posture.  Consider results of the 2017 ABA Legal Technology Survey regarding law firm data security controls:

  • Less than half of the responding firms have the following policies or plans that are important facets of the firm’s security posture:  computer acceptable use policy (48%); remote access policy (45%); personal technology use/BYOD policy (24%); incident response plan (26%); disaster recovery / business continuity plan (42%).
  • Only 60% of the firms have a formal policy or process to manage retention of data held by the firm, and only 40% have an official records retention schedule.
  • 28% of the firms allow personal mobile devices (tablets, laptops, smartphones) to access the firm’s network without any restrictions.
  • Only 45% of the firms have file encryption tools, only 36% have email encryption capabilities, and only 21% have full disk encryption.
  • Among the responding firms that utilize cloud IT services, fewer than than half report using basic security precautions such as evaluating the provider company’s history (27%); reviewing the provider’s privacy policy (38%) or terms of use (34%); using only web-based software with encryption features (36%); or making regular local data backups (41%).

Why are so many firms behind the curve in their data security safeguards?  Here are ten factors to consider (warning – some of the below is not sugar-coated):
Continue Reading Understanding law firms’ unique security vulnerabilities – the key to turning bad news into good news

Sunshine Breaking Through the CloudsLaw firms face significant data security threats.  But there’s good news for law firms on data security.  When firms are serious about their data safeguards and take concrete steps to strengthen their security profile, they better position themselves for higher revenue, lower and better-controlled expenses, and stronger client relationships.

As always, context matters.  The legal services industry has changed dramatically in the last decade, with private practice law firms facing (a) increased competition from nontraditional providers and technology-driven service models; (b) the Internet-driven dissolving of historic barriers to remote service delivery; (c) the post-recession tightening in companies’ outside legal spend; (d) the shift of work to in-house legal staff; (e) the ongoing consolidation of client work in fewer, preferred law firms with geographic bench-strength or industry/specialty focus; and (f) the resulting pressure on mid-sized firms to scale/merge up or specialize/boutique down.  There’s no viable “let’s simply wait it out” option in the face of these trends.  In short, it’s now a far more competitive world for attracting and retaining clients.  There will continue to be winners and losers, but now the margin of difference is more slim.

And this is the “there must be a pony in here somewhere” epiphany – in this highly competitive environment, strategic improvement in a law firm’s data security posture can, more than ever before, make a huge difference.

Here are three examples of how better data security is a strategic win for law firms:
Continue Reading Good news on law firm data security

Threatening dark clouds covering the skyIt all seemed so routine, so straightforward.  The case was settled, with a $500,000 payment to be made to the approved settlement administrator.  The law firm received an email from the administrator with wire transfer directions, and the settlement funds were sent per the instructions.  Just one problem – the email didn’t come from the administrator, the receiving bank was not the right bank, and the half million dollars evaporated.  Poof – gone in an instant.

Sure, it would’ve been prudent for the law firm to have picked up the phone and independently verified the email sender and instructions.  But how did the bad guys know precisely when and to whom to send the phony email, and exactly what to say?  Was it from publicly available information in the court file?  Was there a rogue insider at the firm, or at one of the other litigant’s firms, or at the court, or with the settlement administrator?  Or was someone’s email account illicitly monitored after being compromised by malware or through phished access credentials?
Continue Reading Bad news on law firm data security

Security dial turned to highest settingHow time flies.  Seventeen years ago, I went to work for a small, visionary company based in Seattle—Computer Forensics, Inc.   Indeed, the founder was so early in the e-discovery and forensics industry that our URL was forensics.com.  Laptop drives typically had 8 GB of storage, and servers were more often than not simply a bigger box that sat in a closet.

Lots has changed since then.  New technologies, expanded data sources and media types, and more raw data have flooded consumer and business marketplaces alike.  We’ve all seen the scary statistics on increasing information volumes and the security risks that follow.  Unfortunately, our controls for the creation, management, retention, and disposition of those data have not kept pace.  Yet how we manage our data on a day-to-day basis goes also to the heart of how we protect our data and ensure that our information assets are secure from theft or compromise.

During my years at CFI and since, I’ve found myself pondering “what if?” questions.  What if we only had to protect 20% of our information?  What if clients could take dollars earmarked for e-discovery and increased storage and spend them instead on better systems and operational improvements?  What if a client faced with the reality of a data breach didn’t have to wonder how many unnecessary skeletons were now visible?  The promise of information governance is that we can answer these questions affirmatively.  This is good news, and more importantly, news you can use.
Continue Reading Information governance – the foundation for information security

Fried egg on the sidewalk
“This is your information, ungoverned.”

2017 was rife with data dangers.  Nary a day passed without headlines of massive data breaches and ransomware attacks; Russian election-meddling through WikiLeaks and social media; fake news; and presidential tweet-storms.  Disruptive information-driven technologies continued to emerge, from block-chain to biometrics, IoT, AI, and robotics.  Meanwhile, the sheer volume of our personal and business data inexorably grew.

What better way to start 2018 than with a renewed commitment to Information Governance?  So, here are a dozen reasons why your organization should govern its information, in 2018 and beyond: 
Continue Reading 12 reasons to govern your information in 2018

EquifaxThe aftermath of the Equifax breach continues.  First, the Ugly:

Music Major?  Really?

The hoi palloi apparently find it offensive that Equifax’s Chief Security Officer, fired in the breach’s wake, had a music degree. The implication is that someone formally trained long ago in music is clearly incompetent to have a career in IT or Infosec, much less to be a CSO. That must be a surprise to Jennifer Widom (data management researcher, computer science professor, and Dean of Stanford University’s School of Engineering), who somehow, despite her undergraduate music degree, managed to help lay the foundations for active database systems architecture, crucial for such uses as security monitoring.  Or to countless others who came to Infosec after formal education in other disciplines – check out #unqualifiedfortech on Twitter.

Yesterday’s thoughtful Washington Post piece was well-titled: Equifax’s security chief had some big problems. Being a music major wasn’t one of them. And if your ironic sensibility remains unsated, see the 10/20/2016 article Musicians May Be the Key to the Cybersecurity Talent Shortage.

Next, the Bad:
Continue Reading Equifax breach – the good, the bad, and the ugly

Worried couple checking credit account onlineThe grousing began within 24 hours of Equifax’s announcement, last Thursday, of its massive data breach that compromised personal data of over 140 million U.S. consumers.  I’m generally unsympathetic about such complaints (“We’re shocked – SHOCKED – that in a breach affecting 140+ million people, we’re having trouble immediately reaching a live person at the phone bank!  And the breach website is not operating smoothly!”). Usually only Louis CK’s masterpiece “Everything’s Amazing – and Nobody’s Happy” can coax me out of my grumpy place.

But as post-announcement events have unfolded, some of the initial criticism appears to have legs:
Continue Reading Equifax breach – hot mess, or simply the world we live in?