Law firms have long been an attractive target for cybercriminals and malicious insiders because of the valuable and lucrative data they possess. But with cyberattacks growing more advanced by the day — and successful ones resulting in massive reputational loss, remediation costs, and penalties for the victims — law firms must follow strict IT rules and regulations to protect their data.
Complying with all the necessary requirements and implementing the right data protection measures that suit your practice can be a challenge. In this blog, we’ll tackle the most common data security risks for law firms, and the different data protection compliance requirements that practices must abide by.
What Are the Data Security Risks for Law Firms?
Threat actors can make a pretty penny off of the personal information of your clients and employees. From banking details and health records to trade secrets and intellectual property, the valuable information that your law firm collects and stores will almost certainly attract the ill-intentioned.
Not having the necessary protections in place to keep data secure puts your practice at great risk of the following:
- Compromised communications due to phished or hacked email accounts
- Inability to access critical information as a result of ransomware attacks, where hackers encrypt files and demand a ransom to restore access
- Leakage of personal or business information
- Loss of credibility and trust in your firm
- Malpractice allegations and lawsuits
What Are the Obligations of Law Firms in Terms of Data Security?
Professionally and ethically, it’s a law firm’s duty to protect client data and disclose a breach if one occurs. Rule 1.6 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct by the American Bar Association (ABA) states that lawyers should “make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.”
What’s more, the ABA has released a number of ethics opinions that provide guidance for lawyers on how to address their firm’s cybersecurity. These include Securing Communication of Protected Client Information and Lawyers’ Obligations After an Electronic Data Breach or Cyberattack.
Privacy and Data Security Standards, Laws, and Regulations
Depending on what your law firm specializes in, you may work with various types of sensitive client data, like personal, financial, and healthcare information. Each of these data types is protected by certain security standards, laws, and regulations, such as:
- The National Institute of Standards and Technology Special Publication (NIST SP) 800-53 is a set of standards and guidelines that help strengthen the security of the information systems used within US federal agencies. It covers 18 areas, which include access control, incident response, business continuity, and disaster recovery. In particular, NIST SP 800-53 outlines operational, technical, and management safeguards that help maintain the integrity, confidentiality, and security of federal information systems.
- The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) sets rules for how companies manage and share the personal data of citizens of the European Union. This applies to all companies that operate in the EU or manage the data of EU residents. The GDPR enforces strict security measures, and non-compliance can lead to massive fines of up to $22.07 million or four percent of the company’s annual revenue, whichever is greater.
- The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that consists of strict guidelines and security protocols on storing and handling sensitive patient health information (PHI). This covers all forms of PHI, including electronic, verbal, and written. The HIPAA rules primarily apply to healthcare providers and organizations, as well as their business associates.
- The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard sets forth operational and technical requirements to help ensure the security of credit card transactions and cardholder data. All organizations that accept or process payment transactions, as well as software developers and manufacturers that create the apps and devices used in such transactions, must meet 12 requirements to achieve compliance.
- The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) is a law that requires companies that offer financial products or services — like loans, financial or investment advice, or insurance — to safeguard their customers’ confidential data. In particular, the GLBA mandates these businesses to explain to customers their information-sharing practices and the measures they’re taking to protect the information they collect.
- Each state also has its own data protection laws and recommendations. For instance, the California Consumer Privacy Act gives California consumers control over how businesses may use their personal information. Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Data Security Regulation requires covered organizations to adopt a comprehensive written information security program that incorporates specific security measures.
- Finally, all 50 US states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands have passed breach notification laws that require companies to notify individuals of security breaches involving personally identifiable information. Generally, these laws outline who must comply, what counts as personal information, what constitutes a breach, what requirements are necessary for notice, and if there are exemptions.
How Do Law Firms Stay Compliant?
To conform to these standards, laws, and regulations, you must implement measures and procedures to protect your law firm’s data. This could mean building a cybersecurity program, securing your computers and mobile devices, and improving online communication practices.
It also helps to keep professional and ethical obligations in mind when vetting legal technologies. In many cases, the right software and equipment can better protect your data. For instance, automation eliminates manual processes and the risk of human error, while enhanced encryption helps protect the confidentiality of data stored on computer systems or transmitted over the internet.
Further reading: A Comprehensive Guide to Cybersecurity for Law Firms
Data protection laws and enforcement actions are continually evolving. Failing to stay on top of these changes can mean significant fees and lost opportunities for your law firm, as well as unhappy clients.
Fortunately, we at Integrated Computer Services can provide your Florida practice with proactive data security and the expertise needed to meet various compliance requirements. Get in touch with us today to learn more.