The primary threat to the legal sector stems from cyber criminals with a financial motive. However, increasingly the hacktivist community is targeting law firms to achieve political, economic or ideological ends. Joe Collinwood, CEO at CySure highlights the risks of weak cyber security and advises on how to mitigate exposure.
By Joe Collinwood is CEO of CySure
Criminals are attracted to the legal sector because of the vast amounts of valuable data legal firms hold. New client intake procedures require checking personal identifying information such as passports, bank statements, tax statements and social security numbers. For corporate clients, law firms hold commercially sensitive information on mergers and acquisitions, contracts and intellectual property. All this data is profitable currency in the wrong hands.
The responsibility for cyber security can often fall through the gaps as lawyers are not necessarily trained IT security experts. The focus for fee earning partners is clients, service and revenue, not IT budgets and the implementation of security policies and procedures. However, not having an owner for the firm’s cyber security strategy can lead to a lack of effective and continually reviewed processes, leaving firms wide open to the risk of attack. The absence of oversight creates weaknesses that savvy criminals exploit.
According to the 2018 PricewaterhouseCoopers Law Firm survey[i],60% of firms reported suffering a security incident during the year. The financial and reputational impact of cyber attacks on law firms is significant. The costs that arise from the attack itself and then repairing reputational damage to regain public trust can be considerable.
Friday afternoon fraud
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Risk Outlook 2017/2018[ii] in the UK revealed that from the first quarter of 2016 to the end of the first quarter of 2017, solicitors reported over £12m of client money stolen by cyber criminals. A total of 80% of all cyber crime reports to the SRA in the second quarter of 2018 were related to email modification fraud, where criminals intercept and falsify emails between a client and firm leading to bank details being changed and money being lost. When used to steal conveyancing money it is also known as ‘Friday afternoon fraud’, as many of these transactions take place on Friday afternoons.
Although legal firms are an obvious target for the increasing threat of rogue house-owner and buyer deposit redirection fraud, it’s not just conveyancing practices that need to be on their guard. There are several factors that make law firms an attractive target for cyber criminals, for example, they hold sensitive client information, handle significant funds and are a key enabler in commercial and business transactions.Legal firms can no longer afford for cyber security to be an afterthought, here are 6 proactive steps organizations can take to improve their cyber defences before it is too late:
- Assess your current cyber risk levels
Unless there is awareness of the potential risks then it is almost impossible to create a strategy for minimising them. Certification provides a practical framework for an organization to assess its current cyber hygiene levels. In the UK, Cyber Essentials is a government and industry backed scheme to help all organizations protect themselves against common cyber-attacks. In collaboration with Information Assurance for Small and Medium Enterprises (IAMSE), they set out basic technical controls for organizations to use which is annually assessed. In the US the National Institute Standards and Technology (NIST) framework guides organizations through complex, emerging safety procedures and protocols.
Cyber Essentials and NIST can help legal firms implement strong, cyber security hygiene practices. Being fully Cyber Essentials compliant is said to mitigate 80% of the risks faced by businesses such as malware infections, social engineering attacks and hacking. It aims to provide businesses with a strong base from which to reduce the risk from these prevalent cyber-attacks. By utilising an online information security management system (ISMS) that incorporates NIST and Cyber Essentials Plus, legal practices can undertake certification, guided by a virtual online security officer (VOSO), as part of its wider cyber security measures.
- Practice good cyber hygiene
Good cyber hygiene is about getting the basics right and proactively offsetting the identifiable risks. Invest in effective firewalls, anti-virus and anti-malware solutions and ensure any updates and patches are applied regularly, ensuring that criminals can’t exploit old faults or systems. The National Cyber Security Centre advises updating software as soon as a new patch or update is available. Additionally, user passwords should be changed regularly and unused or end-of-life equipment disposed of securely.
- Secure and back up data
Losing the ability to restore business critical data after an incident can be catastrophic to a business. Data loss can damage reputations and paralyse operations and since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force on 25 May 2018, organizations can face hefty fines should they suffer a data breach. Organizations should ensure business critical data, such as customer data and financial information, on all company assets is securely backed up and can be restored at speed.
- Develop effective policies, processes and incident response plans
Organizations should have simple and clear policies in place to create a cyber-conscious culture in the workplace. These should be communicated to all personnel so they are familiar with current processes and policies. It is also essential to have an up-to-date incident response plan that is practised regularly so that employees know what to do when they suspect there is an attempted breach or if an actual incident occurs. With GDPR now in force, it is important for firms to quickly identify and understand the nature and level of breaches and to have a plan to deal with reportable events.
- Consider the human element
Regular awareness training of employees is vital to combat common scams, such as phishing which is the most common cyber attack impacting law firms. A recent poll conducted by the UK Law Society showed that approximately 80% of firms have reported phishing attempts in the last year[iii]. By engaging in regular cyber security training, firms can raise awareness with employees of the potential scams or tactics being used to trick them. By providing employees with the tools to know what to look for, and what immediate steps to follow should an attack occur, organizations can create the best scenario to restore operations post incident.
- Invest in cyber insurance
Consider investing in cyber insurance to cover the unique exposure of data privacy and security. Standard policies are often inadequate to cover the likely cost of a security breach, whereas specialist cyber insurance policies provide comprehensive cover for cyber attacks and hacktivism. However, it’s important organizations research policies carefully to understand the level of cover offered and the responsibilities to stay within the conditions of the policy.
The cyber threat to the legal sector is not going away. Regardless of the national regulatory standard your firm chooses to follow, either CE or NIST, it is time to be proactive in terms of protecting your own data and that of your clients.
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Shining a spotlight on operational resilience and cyber-risk in financial services
By Miles Tappin, VP of EMEA for ThreatConnect, explores why the financial services industry must build a cyber security strategy in 2020
The new digital landscape has welcomed financial institutions with open arms. Emerging technology such as Artificial intelligence (AI), crypto-currencies and big data have shown widespread benefits throughout the years, particularly how they have driven innovation and change. When it comes to retail banking, fintech providers have quickly taken the chance to offer personalised services to ensure they remain relevant to their target market and stand out among their competitors.
This has been particularly evident with Klarna, now Europe’s most valued fintech firm. Providing payment solutions for online storefronts, consumers are now able to shop and pay later with top retailers including the likes of H&M, Ikea and Zara. This is just one example of how easy it has become to successfully and strategically disrupt the payments sector.
With several new players entering the banking scene, traditional financial institutions are making sure that they stay one step ahead and are developing robust digital ecosystems that deliver omnichannel service models. However, this comes at a price. As technological change becomes part and parcel to remaining relevant in the sector, the industry needs to be aware of the cyber security challenges that may present themselves and how to overcome them.
2020: The year for cybercriminals targeting financial services
2020 has become a definitive year for cybersecurity in the financial services industry. Financial institutions are a lucrative target – they hold highly sensitive information and have a mandate to protect the personal information of their customers. It started with an unprecedented attack against Travelex where hackers successfully took some of the currency providers offline for nearly a month. Then came Coronavirus which sparked a new wave of malware and phishing threats. Research from VMware Carbon Black Cloud revealed that threats against financial institutions have surged by 238% since the start of the pandemic.
The renewed interest from cyber criminals comes at a time when regulators are paying close attention to the resilience of the sector. After a string of IT failures and breaches, financial organisations in the UK have been given a mandate from regulators to improve operational resilience. This means ensuring business models can withstand disruptive events from hackers or adversaries and quickly recover to protect the stability of financial systems.
In December 2019, the UK’s financial regulators published a series of consultation papers outlining their proposed approach to achieving greater operational resilience. The proposals suggested that financial institutions will be required to map out the systems and processes that support business services in order to identify any potential vulnerabilities that would pose a risk to the stability of the UK financial system or the firm’s standing.
Working together in tandem
Where cybersecurity used to be a classic back-office concern, it’s now a central part of digital strategies and a key pillar of both reputation and customer retention – financial legislation leaves no room for failure. All financial institutions need to ensure they have full visibility of their systems and can detect any potential threats.
The challenge for financial institutions is making the security tools they have purchased separately work together in tandem. Security teams buy a firewall, an email filter, threat intelligence feeds, antivirus software or enhanced endpoint protection, and whatever else they need individually. Each of them does a good job but they don’t talk to each other and valuable time is lost tending to individual systems that become a burden to run. At the same time, running multiple security systems is expensive. The more systems you have, the more highly skilled staff you need to manage them, and they’re few and far between.
The importance of sharing across communities
To reduce complexity and simplify decision making, financial organisations need to unify processes and technology to harness the security intelligence that comes from across their own security programmes and external sources to drive down risk. However, no financial institution can tackle the problem alone. Experienced threat actors using advanced techniques are constantly targeting the financial sector. The industry needs to come together as a whole to foster a sense of collaboration and data sharing.
In the same way that financial institutions have introduced open banking to deliver a fairer service to customers, the same needs to apply to security – all parts of the financial ecosystem need to unite and share information to learn from one another and succeed in the fight against adversaries that operate across borders.
By sharing alerts on cyber hazards and risk across financial institutions and with law enforcement, government agencies and other relevant authorities, it’s possible to build industry specific insights into cyber security threats and quickly pivot to gain more information on those specific threats and threat actors. By working together, a picture can be painted on threats coming from all manner of malicious activity, from malware to ransomware, to phishing and software vulnerabilities.
Creating a single source of intelligence
Having the right intelligence is not enough to ensure that intelligence is turned into action. Breaking down information and process silos across security teams allows financial organisation to analyse and act on the most pertinent information. Everyone has access to the risk and threats that matter most, and orchestration and automation of response helps overwhelmed security teams prioritise response plans and improve efficiencies in their security programme.
Integrating internal security tools and technologies, while also connecting to external sources of intelligence, creates a single source of intelligence that feeds operations and enables organisations to direct action against the threats that matter most. The outcomes of those actions further feed intelligence, providing the ability to further refine the efficacy of the entire security lifecycle.
This approach provides a continuous feedback loop for the people, processes and technologies that make up the security programme. It allows financial institutions to keep up with threat actors that have consistently adapted their methods to profit at the expense of the financial industry. Something that won’t stop anytime soon.
While financial services institutions tend to operate with security front of mind, there is still an opportunity to collaborate more within the industry and increase intelligence sharing, so CSOs and CTOs can understand as much as they can about the threats they are facing. For example, what types or variants of malware have been used to steal, delete, or ransom personal identifiable information or IP specific to financial services? What ransomware has been used in attacks against other organisations within the industry? How does this ransomware work and how does it ransom the targeted data? Ultimately, the more you know, the better and quicker you’ll be able to respond to a new threat and remain protected.
Blackline reveals CEO succession plan
By President & COO Marc Huffman appointed CEO as of Jan. 1st, 2021;
Founder Therese Tucker to serve as executive chair
Accounting automation software leader BlackLine, Inc. (Nasdaq: BL) today announced that the board of directors has elected Marc Huffman as chief executive officer, effective January 1st, 2021. Mr. Huffman currently serves as president and chief operating officer. Therese Tucker, who has served as CEO since founding BlackLine in 2001, will continue to serve on the company’s board as executive chair.
A seasoned SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) executive with more than 25 years of experience driving growth at successful software companies, Huffman joined BlackLine in early 2018 as chief operating officer. He was named president in February 2020, leading the company’s worldwide sales, marketing, technology and all customer-facing organizations. Since Huffman joined, BlackLine has scaled its sales and customer success teams, strategically repositioned its go-to-market plan, completed a global reseller agreement with SAP, established a subsidiary in Japan, and entered into a number of strategic alliances with the world’s leading consulting and advisory firms.
Prior to BlackLine, Huffman served as president of worldwide sales and distribution at NetSuite. During his 14-year tenure, NetSuite grew from $3 million to $1 billion in annual revenue and became recognized as a global SaaS powerhouse.
“I’ve been so pleased with the leadership Marc has demonstrated over the past two and a half years, most recently driving our response to the COVID-19 pandemic – mitigating disruption to the business and our customers. Because of Marc’s leadership, skill set, cultural alignment and stellar performance, BlackLine is in a better position to grow and scale than ever before,” said Ms. Tucker. “I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved at BlackLine and believe Marc is the kind of leader I can trust to take our customer-centric values, vision and growth to the next level. I am also thrilled that in addition to providing strategic oversight as executive chair, I will now have more time to focus on the areas I love most – product innovation and customer success.”
The announced transition is part of a multi-year succession plan that has involved seeking potential successors, bringing the right person on board, seeing that person excel, and Tucker and Huffman working methodically together over several years to build out the leadership team and strategic growth plan and ensure values were aligned.
“I am ready and excited for this next step. BlackLine is a special place with a strong culture and I am looking forward to leading the company through its next phase of growth,” said Huffman. “We’ve got the team, the plan, and now we are focused on execution as we continue to scale the business and make BlackLine an indispensable platform for Finance & Accounting organizations globally.”
Commenting on the CEO and executive chair changes, John Brennan, BlackLine’s chairman of the board, said, “We are excited to announce Marc’s appointment as CEO. His experience successfully expanding and scaling NetSuite into new strategic and geographical markets is invaluable as BlackLine continues to penetrate what we believe is still an untapped market. Coupled with his proven track record at BlackLine we are confident that, under Marc’s leadership, the company’s momentum, growth and success will only accelerate.”
Mr. Brennan added, “Therese has been a strong and inspirational leader since she founded BlackLine just over 19 years ago. Her unwavering determination and commitment to both customers and employees has been the driving force behind the company’s incredible journey from start-up to global market leader. We look forward to having her serve as executive chair, a position in which she will continue to shape the future of the company she has built from the ground up.”
Upon Tucker’s assumption of the executive chair role, Brennan will serve as the board’s lead outside director.
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