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  • 07 December 2023
  • 8 min read

UK legal sector facing increased cyber security risks

The UK legal sector finds itself in the crosshairs of malicious actors seeking financial gain, data manipulation, or even geopolitical advantage.
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The UK legal sector finds itself in the crosshairs of malicious actors seeking financial gain, data manipulation, or even geopolitical advantage.

The NCSC states that 75% of the UK’s top 100 law firms have been affected by cyberattacks.

Decision-makers responsible for cyber security in UK law firms must be vigilant and proactive in addressing the growing challenges posed by cyber threats.

Why is the UK legal sector a prime target for cybercriminals?

In this ever-online era, information is power; as a result, UK law firms emerge as particularly enticing targets for cyber adversaries due to a confluence of factors that amplify the potential impact of successful attacks.

  • Potential for financial and reputational damage: Law firms, by the very nature of their work, handle substantial financial transactions and store a treasure trove of sensitive client data. A successful cyberattack can result in not only immediate financial losses but also severe and lasting damage to the firm's reputation. Trust is paramount in the legal profession, and any compromise of confidential information can irreversibly tarnish the trust clients place in their legal counsel.
  • Loss of public trust: Clients entrust law firms with their most confidential and sensitive information, creating a unique fiduciary relationship. A breach in this trust can have far-reaching consequences, extending beyond financial losses to legal ramifications. The loss of public trust poses a significant threat to the continued success and credibility of a law firm, making cyber resilience a top priority.
  • Geopolitical conflict and corporate espionage: Law firms often find themselves immersed in cases with geopolitical implications, handling matters that may have far-reaching consequences on a national or international scale. For instance, post Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, NATO countries saw a staggering 300% increase in cyberattacks. This geopolitical significance makes these firms attractive targets for cyber adversaries seeking strategic advantages or engaging in corporate espionage. Infiltrating a law firm's digital infrastructure can provide malicious actors with critical insights that may influence legal proceedings, national policies, or corporate strategies.
  • Use of external IT service providers: Many law firms leverage external IT service providers to manage their technological infrastructure, introducing additional complexities and potential vulnerabilities. A breach in one of these third-party service providers can have a cascading effect, compromising the security of multiple law firms simultaneously. In fact, this year, it was reported that hundreds of UK law firms were affected by a cyberattack on IT provider CTS (a managed service provider) – leaving law firms unable to access their case management systems. Today’s Conveyancer further estimates that between 80 and 200 firms were unable to access their phones and emails.
  • Hacktivists: In an era where activism extends into the digital realm, law firms may find themselves targeted by hacktivists—hackers with ideological motives. These adversaries seek to disrupt operations, deface websites, or steal sensitive information to further their causes. Law firms, with their influence and access to sensitive data, become attractive targets for hacktivists aiming to make a statement or advance their agenda through digital means.

Recognising these factors is crucial for decision-makers in the legal sector, as it empowers them to fortify their cyber security measures and proactively defend against the evolving landscape of cyber threats.

Common cyber threats confronting the UK legal sector

The UK legal sector grapples with an escalating array of cyber threats that demand strategic and proactive defences. Let us break down the most common cyber threats that we see:

  • Phishing: At the forefront of cyber threats facing the UK legal sector is the persistent and cunning tactic of phishing. Cyber adversaries deploy sophisticated emails or messages to trick individuals within legal organisations into divulging sensitive information.
  • Password attacks: Law firms often rely on password-based security systems, making them susceptible to targeted password attacks. Cybercriminals exploit weak or compromised passwords to gain unauthorised access to legal databases and communication channels.
  • Ransomware/Data exfiltration: The ominous spectre of ransomware looms large over the legal sector, threatening to encrypt valuable data and demanding payment for its release. Worryingly, 25% of firms are not encrypting their laptops. Beyond traditional ransomware attacks, the emergence of data exfiltration poses a dual threat, wherein cybercriminals threaten to expose sensitive information unless their demands are met. Legal entities must fortify their defences to thwart these extortion attempts.
  • Supply chain/third-party security: The interconnected nature of legal operations often involves reliance on external IT service providers and interconnected networks. This dependence introduces vulnerabilities, as a breach in a third-party service provider can reverberate through the legal ecosystem, compromising the security of multiple firms simultaneously. In fact, we can even see it bleed over into other sectors; for example, recently food conglomerate Mondelez (behind brands like Ritz and Oreo) saw the personal data of 51,000 of its current and former employees compromised following a cyberattack on its law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner.
  • Insider threats: Whether intentional or unintentional, employees can compromise the security of a law firm. According to PWC’s 2022 law firm report, 77% of legal firms experienced a cyberattack because of a staff error, whilst 8% experienced an incident because of a malicious insider. Mitigating insider threats requires a multifaceted approach, encompassing employee training, robust access controls, and continuous monitoring to detect anomalous activities.
  • Business email compromise: The subtlety of Business Email Compromise (BEC) poses a significant risk to the legal sector. Fraudulent emails manipulate employees into transferring funds or disclosing sensitive information, often masquerading as legitimate correspondence. Law firms must implement advanced email security measures and conduct regular training to fortify their defences against BEC attacks.

By addressing these common cyber threats head-on, legal entities can navigate the digital battlefield with resilience and safeguard the integrity of the legal profession.

Anticipating cyber threats reshaping law firms in 2024

In the forthcoming year of 2024, decision-makers in the legal sector must brace themselves for a new wave of sophisticated threats, each presenting unique challenges that demand heightened vigilance and innovative defences.

  • Credential theft/stuffing: A prominent concern in the upcoming year is the escalation of credential theft and stuffing attacks. Cyber adversaries are anticipated to leverage stolen or leaked credentials to gain unauthorised access to legal databases and communication channels. The compromise of user identities poses a significant threat, requiring law firms to fortify their authentication mechanisms and implement advanced identity protection measures.
  • Insecure home networks: With the continued prevalence of remote work, law firms face an elevated risk stemming from insecure home networks. Employees accessing legal systems from home environments may unwittingly introduce vulnerabilities that malicious actors can exploit. Securing remote work environments becomes paramount, necessitating robust VPN solutions, endpoint protection, and comprehensive employee training on secure remote practices.
  • QR code phishing: A threat on the horizon is the proliferation of QR code phishing. As QR codes become increasingly integrated into various legal processes, cybercriminals are anticipated to exploit this technology for malicious purposes. Law firms must educate their employees on the risks associated with scanning unknown QR codes, implement scanning safeguards, and foster a culture of scepticism towards unsolicited QR codes.
  • AI-Powered ransomware and malware: In 2024, law firms may encounter AI-powered ransomware and malware that exhibit unprecedented levels of sophistication. These intelligent threats can adapt their tactics in real-time, requiring legal entities to invest in cutting-edge AI-driven security solutions to effectively counteract this evolving menace.
  • DNS spoofing: By manipulating the Domain Name System, attackers can redirect legal professionals to fraudulent websites, leading to potential data breaches or the deployment of malicious payloads. Law firms must implement DNS security measures and conduct regular audits to detect and thwart spoofing attempts.
  • Deepfake/Identity theft: The rise of deepfake technology presents a unique threat to the legal sector, with the potential for malicious actors to create realistic fake videos or audio impersonating key individuals within a law firm. This form of identity theft can be weaponised for various fraudulent activities.

By anticipating and preparing for these forthcoming threats, law firms can navigate the evolving digital terrain with confidence and safeguard the integrity of their operations.

The crucial role of cyber security training and awareness for UK law firms

Recognising the critical need for a robust defence strategy, is the first step for decision-makers in these legal institutions. The next step is to implement cyber security training and awareness campaigns and view them as indispensable tools to fortify their digital fortresses.

  • Building resilience through education: While technological solutions are integral, the human factor remains the linchpin of cyber security. Cyber security training equips legal professionals with the knowledge and skills needed to identify and thwart potential threats.
  • Simulated phishing: Conducting simulated phishing exercises is a powerful method employed during cyber security training. These exercises mimic real-world scenarios, allowing employees to experience and learn from simulated attacks. This hands-on approach not only heightens awareness but also instils a sense of urgency and vigilance and should be applied to other cyber threats and risks as well.
  • Tailored content for legal professionals: Cyber security training for law firms should be tailored to address industry-specific threats. This includes scenarios related to client confidentiality, legal documents, and sensitive case information. By providing contextually relevant content, training programs ensure that legal professionals are well-equipped to navigate the unique challenges of the legal sector.
  • Insider threat mitigation: Cyber security training extends beyond external threats to address insider risks. Legal professionals are educated on recognising signs of potential insider threats, understanding the importance of secure data handling, and reporting any unusual activities promptly. This proactive approach helps mitigate risks arising from unintentional or malicious actions by employees.
  • Adapting to evolving threat landscapes: Cyber threats evolve continuously, and cyber security training must keep pace. By incorporating information on emerging threats, such as AI-powered attacks, deepfakes, and QR code phishing, training programs ensure that legal professionals are prepared to face the cyber security challenges of the future.
  • Incorporating home network security: With the increasing prevalence of remote work, cyber security training expands its focus to address the security challenges associated with home networks. Employees gain insights into securing their home environments, implementing secure practices, and recognising potential vulnerabilities that may arise in remote work scenarios.
  • Leadership's role in fostering a security culture: Cyber security is not merely a set of practices; it is a culture that permeates an organisation. Decision-makers play a pivotal role in fostering a security-conscious culture by championing cyber security initiatives, emphasising its importance, and integrating security practices into the daily operations of the firm. Leadership commitment sets the tone for the entire organisation.
  • Promoting continuous learning: Cyber threats are dynamic, necessitating a commitment to continuous learning. Ongoing training and awareness campaigns ensure that legal professionals stay abreast of the latest threats, mitigation strategies, and industry best practices. This commitment to continuous learning establishes a resilient and adaptive cyber security culture within the legal institution.

Working with the right partner

Partnering with a trusted cyber security training and awareness company, such as The Security Company Ltd. (TSC), is crucial. With 25 years of experience, TSC specialises in enhancing security behaviours, fostering a robust security culture, and raising awareness of threats and risks across global organisations.

The dynamic nature of cyber threats necessitates a comprehensive and adaptive cyber security strategy for UK law firms. By understanding the evolving threat landscape and investing in robust training and awareness initiatives, decision-makers can fortify their organisations against potential risks and cyberattacks.

At The Security Company, we specialise in boosting cyber awareness, targeted training, customised projects and role-based solutions. Through our tailored subscription services, targeted and customised eLearning and awareness materials and our behavioural assessments, we're committed to helping organisations like yours instil long-term, security-conscious behaviours.

Our method is distinct. We begin by diving deep into your team's current mindset, pinpointing lax behaviours, security gaps and departments in need of focus and attention. From there, we craft tailored solutions that encourage better cyber practices from your employees. With comprehensive training and seamless integration into your current systems, we're here to fortify your team against modern cyber threats and be your trusted cyber security and awareness partner.

Ready to take the next step?

We can help you to formulate an effective and comprehensive cyber security training and awareness program for your organisation year-round and be your dedicated partner for employee behaviour change and, ultimately, security culture change.

Do not hesitate to contact us for further information.

Written by
Nas Ali
Cyber security and awareness content creator focused on emerging threats and the next wave of cyber security risks like AI, deepfakes and tech 4.0 initiatives in order to build towards a more secure organisational culture.
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