Cyber Risk Is Greater than Ever in the Legal Industry

How a Ransomware Attack Crippled One of the World’s Largest Law Firms - and What We Can Learn from the Incident 

As industries continue to face increased challenges associated with moving forward in our new online reality, law firms and the legal world have discovered the importance of instituting and improving technology that supports the practice - whether in the office or remotely.

Law firms are being forced to rapidly modernize their operations and their infrastructure - transitioning to operating digitally and, in many cases, moving critical business communications to cloud platforms like Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace to continue to service their clients.

Without additional layers of security defenses, these platforms are highly vulnerable to cyber attacks such as phishing and ransomware - and this risk has been compounded during the COVID-19 pandemic due to rushed deployments and frequent misconfigurations of cloud platforms. This leaves law firms - an already popular target among cyber criminals - more susceptible than ever to the compromise of sensitive data and stalled operations due to a cyber attack. 

A Closer Look at the Cost of a Ransomware Attack in the Legal Industry

DLA Piper - one of the largest law firms in the world that specializes in cyber security - has experienced the devastation of a ransomware attack firsthand. In 2017, DLA Piper LLP was taken down by the infamous NotPetya ransomware, which infected hundreds of thousands of computers across its platform and halted operations for days. The global attack encrypted all affected files, costing the firm 15,000 extra hours of overtime for its IT staff. In an industry dictated by strict timelines, the legal giant worked quickly and tirelessly to mitigate the crisis. However, although DLA Piper paid a large sum of bitcoin to the attackers in a desperate effort to regain access to their critical data, not all email records were recovered. 

The incident also resulted in a dispute with DLA Piper’s insurance provider Hiscox over the insurer’s failure to pay out for the significant costs and damages associated with the attack. In 2019, DLA Piper attempted to sue Hiscox over this incident, but lost the case.

It is estimated that the total direct and indirect costs of NotPetya ransomware attacks are now “in the millions”, and other international corporations hit by this dangerous ransomware variant continue to experience permanent damages including compromised data, lost files and a tainted reputation.

The Takeaways

The fact that DLA Piper - a world renowned law firm that advises leading anti-phishing and cyber security company Cofense - fell victim to a ransomware attack prior to the COVID-19 crisis is a clear indication that no legal firm is safe from this ominous, growing email-borne threat without adequate cyber defenses in place - especially in this current environment of heightened digital risk. 

Ransomware emails have evolved to become highly targeted, sophisticated and difficult to detect. Malicious actors thoroughly research their victims in order to craft highly convincing and deceptive attack campaigns. Human behavior is ultimately unpredictable, and companies cannot rely on employees to identify signs of fraud and implement email security best practices - even if their employees have received security awareness training.

Combating ransomware and other advanced, persistent email threats requires a comprehensive, multi-layered email security solution that implements techniques including URL scanning, file analysis, email authentication protocols and sender reputation tracking to confirm the safety and legitimacy of each email that passes through its gateway prior to delivery.

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