Ransomware and Your Law Firm

ransomware

Imagine if your law practice and client data were held for ransom.

The last few years have given rise to a frightening new digital threat: Ransomware.

Ransomware is the marriage between computer viruses and electronic theft and fraud. Ransomware is software that spreads like a virus, infects a computer and (without the user’s consent) encrypts all of its contents. The victim must pay a ransom to the creator of the ransomware to acquire the key necessary to decrypt their data.

How Ransomware Works

Ransomware spreads like a computer virus, primarily by email (so as always: be careful opening email from unknown sources!) as well as certain web sites meant to look familiar, but cleverly impersonated to allow the casual user to unknowingly become infected. Once the virus infects the computer, it immediately begins encrypting the computer’s hard drive and any other attached drives it can find. Any data including documents, videos, images–will be encrypted: forever locked away unless you pay the ransom. We’ve observed the exact ransom to range from $200 to $5000 USD per incident.

Once the ransomware virus is installed, it will then open a window alerting the user that it has struck, and the only way to decrypt the data is to pay a fee (ransom), which the victim can do right from their computer. See below–a screen shot of a computer infected by Cryptolocker, one of the most prevalent forms of ransomware today.

(Other prevalent and dangerous ransomware include Telacrypt, CryptoWall and TorrentLocker.)

What Makes Ransomware a Serious Threat

There are a few major factors that make this threat difficult to address.

  • Modern encryption is unbreakable. There is no way to retrieve encrypted data on your own.
  • Lack of Proper Backups. Many small and midsized law firms lack the proper backup systems to quickly recover from a ransomware attack.
  • Overseas Perpetrators. Most ransomware schemes are run from overseas, limiting the authority’s ability to prevent and stop the organizations and individuals that carry out ransomware attacks.
  • Always Evolving. The actual ransomware viruses are constantly evolving, and commercial virus protection solutions are often a step behind protecting the latest variant.

Ransomware – A Time Bomb for Law Firms

Ransomware is especially damaging to law firms. The servers and computers belonging to law firms often have critical client and case data, time-sensitive and/or deadline-centric data and generally data for which there is a large risk and penalties if accessed by an unauthorized 3rd party or unavailable to the firm and its staff. Legal fillings, scanned documents, images, contracts and more–can all be taken hostage by ransomware.

How to Protect Yourself

Today ransomware is so prevalent, and so difficult to stop–the likelihood of your law firm becoming a victim is relatively high. Here are some measures you can–and should–take to protect your firm.

  1. Managed AntiVirus. Your server and every computer should not only have virus protection software, but the antivirus software should be actively managed by an IT professional. That is: someone should be verifying that every device on your network is protected and the antivirus software is up-to-date. Too often we see small and midsized law firms with virus protection systems that are on “auto-pilot”, with no one routinely verifying protection.
  2. Backups. Like virus protection: when it comes to your law firm’s backups, its imperative that you not only have backups, but that a qualified IT professional is managing your backups. Your backups should be reviewed daily, and tested routinely.
  3. Education and Compliance. Most ransomware schemes are run from overseas, limiting the authority’s ability to prevent and stop the organizations and individuals that carry out ransomware attacks.
  4. Always Evolving. This is a topic that needs to be incorporated into every law firm’s onboarding process for their attorneys, assistants, and entire legal staff. Require accountability with company rules combined with periodic reviews to ensure awareness and compliance. Focus attention to this important topic, and bring it up in your next all-company meeting, and force password changes at least twice a year.

A Safe Haven in the Cloud

One of the reasons so many law firms are turning to private cloud solutions is the enhanced security and built-in management of their IT platform. With a private cloud like Uptime Practice™, the Cloud Service Provider (CSP) is responsible for protecting their network from external threats like ransomware.

A quality CSP is in the business of providing safe, reliable platforms, and has likely spent the time and resources necessary to protect against the latest cyber-threats. And–since no network can be made perfectly secure–if there is an infection or incident, the onus is on the CSP to react and resolve the infection–not yours.

The Uptime Verdict

Ransomware is among the fastest-growing threat to your firm’s data. Make sure you’re properly prepared and protected, and consider a hosted, fully-managed, secure private cloud solution to take the management and protection of your data off of your shoulders.

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