In today’s digitally connected world, where little is valued more than information, no sector is immune to the threat of cyber breaches. The legal industry, long considered a fortress of confidentiality and security, finds itself under siege. Law firms, entrusted with sensitive client data and privileged information, are prime targets for cybercriminals seeking to exploit vulnerabilities for financial gain or other malicious purposes.

And law firm breaches can have far-reaching repercussions. Keep reading to learn why law firms are under attack, the consequences of a breach, and examples of recent law-firm breaches.

Why do hackers target law firms ?

Law firms are in a unique situation, as they must defend their own internal data plus the diverse range of client data — financial statements, medical data, criminal records, intellectual property — making them a likely target for extortion and ransomware.

Sobering Stats on Law Firm Breaches

  • In just the first five months of 2024, law firm data breach reports rose. By mid-May, 21 law firms submitted reports to their state attorneys general offices, indicating a notable surge in comparison to the figures from previous years. In contrast, 2023 tallied 28 breach reports, 2022 had 33, and 2021 recorded 38 breaches to state attorneys general.
  • In 2024, Radar reports escalating data breach class actions, with over 40 cases filed monthly, in comparison to 2023 where 33 breach-related lawsuits were filed per month.
  • In the U.K., law firms are increasingly susceptible to data breaches, with the main issue being internal sources and human mistakes. Human error, including verbal disclosures, failure to redact or utilize blind carbon copy (bcc), data tampering, hardware misconfigurations, and sending documents to incorrect recipients, accounted for 39% of reported incidents.
  • A mere 29% of law firms reported having undergone a comprehensive security assessment performed by an external part.
  • Only 42% of law firms reported they have an active incident response plan
  • Surprisingly, IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report found that half of breached organizations will not increase their cybersecurity budget

Long-term Consequences of a Law Firm Breach

The repercussions of cyberattacks on legal firms can be long-lasting and severely impact the viability of an organization:

Client trust and reputation

Clients entrust law firms with sensitive information, expecting confidentiality and security. A data breach erodes client trust, risking client loss and damaging long-term relationships.

With some law firm breaches, the impacted firm may face legal consequences and regulatory penalties which can lead to fines, lawsuits, and regulatory sanctions.

Financial losses

Financial implications can go well beyond regulatory fines and legal expenses. Remediation costs can include forensic investigations, cybersecurity upgrades, and concerted efforts to manage reputational damage.

Operational disruption

A breach almost always leads to the disruption of normal business operations, leading to productivity losses, downtime, and disruption of client services.

Several high-profile law firm breaches serve as sobering reminders of the pervasive threat posed by cyberattacks. From large multinational firms to boutique practices, no law firm is immune to data breaches:

  • A U.S. law firm specializing in serving high-profile financial institutions, reported to its state attorneys general in February 2024 that a system breach discovered in May 2023 exposed the personal data of more than 325,000 people.
  • A global law firm disclosed that more than 600,000 individuals were impacted by a data breach that happened in early 2023. Over a two-week period, attacker accessed a portion of their network, including a file share storing files related to their clients.
  • In November 2021, the U.K.’s largest independent conveyancing firm was the victim of a major cyber-attack that led to core business systems going offline. This was reported to have cost the firm £6.8m ($8.6m) in business. The firm reportedly invested heavily to increase its cybersecurity resilience following the incident.
  • A security lapse at an international law firm exposed sensitive client data for more than six months.
  • In 2022, a cyberattack on a U.K. top-100 firm led to a ransom demand of up to £4.75 million.

Improving Law Firm Cybersecurity with Managed Security Services

Ensuring your law firm or legal institution has comprehensive security coverage against known and emerging threats is a must in the current threat landscape. Fortra’s Alert Logic managed security services – including Fortra Extended Detection & Response (XDR), Alert Logic Managed Detection & Response (MDR) and Fortra Managed Web Application Firewall (WAF) – provide unrivaled security and extensive breadth and depth of coverage. Improve your security posture and lower risk of a law firm breach through:

1. Visibility – It goes without saying that you can’t protect what you can’t see. Our XDR and MDR solutions provide visibility across on-premises, cloud, and hybrid environments, identifying misconfigurations and vulnerabilities, while also collecting network and log data for ongoing monitoring.

2. Threat detection and response – Of the 31,536,000 seconds in a 365-day year, how many of them can you afford for your IT environment to go unmonitored? Not a single one. And with our global security operations center (SOC), your systems will be monitored constantly, using curated threat intelligence, active analytics, and threat hunting to identify both known and emerging threats.

3. Risk reduction – Our actionable intelligence prioritizes and remediate the biggest risks in your environment. Your risk profile matches up to your risk appetite and minimizes the likelihood of a compromise occurring.

4. Compliance – Achieve better outcomes and continuous security compliance with our solutions. Whether you’re needing to comply with PCI DSS 4.0, GDPR, HIPAA or a host of other local, state or national regulations, we collaborate with you to reach your compliance goals.

5. Cyber insurance – Many organizations today are in a scramble to obtain cyber insurance and they’re finding it to be a challenge to get a policy. Insurers want proof of how their potential clients have secured their environment and strengthened their security posture. With Alert Logic’s XDR and MDR solutions, you’ll have the answers you need during underwriting consideration.

6. Customer demands – Cyber insurance companies are not the organizations demanding to know about your security strategy. Customers, especially for government contracts, now commonly request information about your security strategy.

Threat actors certainly will not reduce their attacks on law firms. More likely, they’ll increase the frequency and sophistication of attacks on law firm targets. Don’t wait until your firm experiences a make cybersecurity a priority. Collaborate with a managed security services provider to proactively enhance and accelerate your security strategy. Connect with Alert Logic and learn more about our comprehensive approach to security.

Heather Wiederhoeft
About the Author
Heather Wiederhoeft
Heather McLean Wiederhoeft is the Senior Content and Social Media Creator for Fortra’s Alert Logic. An accomplished strategic communicator, she brings more than 30 years’ experience in content creation, marketing communications, public relations, and publication development to the team.

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