Navigating cyber security threats in the legal sector

Discover why UK law firms face escalating cyber threats and the urgent need for advanced cybersecurity strategies.
Ed BoalMarch 20, 202413 min

With 75% of UK law firms encountering a cyber-attack in the past year – a statistic corroborated by the National Cyber Security Centre’s 2023 report  – it’s clear that data breaches and cyber attacks on law firms are on the rise. 

That said, the need to safeguard client information has never been higher. This is especially the case now that criminals without any technical knowledge have easy access to ‘Malware-as-a-Service’ (MaaS) and can ‘rent’ ready-made malicious software and hardware to carry out cyber-attacks. Recent data breaches in the legal sector, such as the attack on specialist infrastructure service provider CTS last year which affected over 80 law firms, underscores the vulnerability of businesses entrusted with sensitive client data and the evolving sophistication of tools and tactics at the disposal of attackers. 

The potential consequences of cyber-attacks are stark and lead not just to financial losses, but also profound reputational damage and potential lawsuits stemming from compromised client information. As a result, the reliance on external security providers is growing, along with the need for law firms to invest in robust processes that secure client data and funds. We’re already seeing this in top law firms – Allen & Overy recently hired a team of cyber security professionals to be on hand to handle cyber incidents and manage data risks.

Cyber-attacks are becoming more damaging

In response to the growing cyber threat landscape, law firms must prioritise investment in employee training on basic security hygiene and social engineering attacks, update cyber security measures, and revise incident response plans to mitigate the risk and severity of an attack. Unfortunately, some law firms still rely on outdated methods and overlook modern cybersecurity practices. A study revealed that over 80% of top UK law firms run services with known vulnerabilities – this adherence to outdated methods leaves legal entities exposed to severe consequences, emphasising the urgent need for a shift towards more advanced and proactive cybersecurity strategies.

The repercussions of a successful cyber-attack are substantial, with the potential theft of sensitive client information leading to profound financial and reputational damage. The alarming cost of cyber crime, which is expected to reach $10 trillion annually by 2025, underscores the tangible impact of insufficient cyber security measures. Traditionalist approaches leave firms exposed, while proactive preparation is key to mitigating damage and preserving client trust.

The latest developments in cyber security

The legal sector’s embrace of Artificial Intelligence (AI) presents both opportunities and risks. While AI offers significant potential for improving service delivery, it also creates new attack vectors. 

This has been corroborated by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which found that AI is already being used in malicious cyber activity, and is expected to increase the volume and frequency of cyber attacks in the next two years. By lowering the barrier of entry to novice cyber criminals, AI enables relatively unskilled threat actors to carry out more effective access and information-gathering operations. 

Fortunately, AI itself can also be a powerful weapon in a firm’s cyber arsenal. Advanced threat detection and analysis powered by AI can identify malicious activities, prevent data loss, and enable rapid response to incidents. Automated incident response systems powered by AI can react in real-time, minimising the impact of an attack and safeguarding sensitive data. 

Embracing the digital era to avoid cyber attacks

Preventing cyber attacks goes beyond just adopting safeguarding procedures, such as encryption measures or access controls, and undergoing extensive awareness training sessions. It’s crucial that law firms embrace the digital era by having the best-in-practice tech-based deterrents that can allow them to be resilient against cyber crimes. This involves continuous adaptation to emerging threats, collaborating with cybersecurity experts, and integrating technologies that not only secure sensitive data but also contribute to an evolving defence strategy.

Tech-based security measures are developing and becoming more sophisticated, as are the evolving skills and techniques incorporated by cyber criminals. Therefore, it’s imperative that the legal sector cultivate a cybersecurity stance that adapts to the ever-changing threat landscape, to ensure they remain protected against growing threats.

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Ed Boal, Head of Legal at Shieldpay

Ed Boal is Head of Legal at Shieldpay. Prior to joining Shieldpay, Ed was a corporate technology lawyer for 13 years mainly advising fast-growth tech companies on corporate transactions, commercial agreements and data protection matters.

Ed Boal


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