In a world of remote work and digital communications, protecting confidential information is more important than ever. Nowhere is this more true than at your law firm. This is why the legal industry is pushing for higher levels of privacy compliance. In this push, many firms are also finding that technology is a complicating factor, since it is part of the problem and also part of the solution.
What does privacy compliance mean for your firm? And what roles does technology play in privacy compliance efforts? How does technology pose both challenges and opportunities for ensuring data security at your firm?
Why is privacy compliance important for law firms?
Law firms tend to be prime targets for cybercrime. A typical firm holds a wealth of information that is highly tempting to hackers, ranging from personally identifiable information (PII) to privileged communications to trade secrets. Accordingly, data security has to be a top priority for your firm. Your firm’s privacy compliance can be measured by the safeguards it puts in place to secure confidential information.
The potential consequences of a security breach are immense for any firm. Ransomware could cut off your ability to access crucial information or even the firm’s entire system. Your firm could also suffer compromised communications or leaks of personal or business information to the public. This is to say nothing of the reputational risk for your firm, and even the possibility of malpractice actions.
There are also numerous ethical and regulatory obligations owed by attorneys with respect to privacy compliance. According to ABA rules, lawyers must make reasonable efforts to secure information relating to their representation of clients, and they have certain obligations with respect to secured communications and responding to electronic data breaches. Your firm must also comply with applicable state laws that govern electronic data security, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the Stop Hacks and Improve Electronic Data Security (SHIELD) Act in New York.
The challenges technology poses for privacy compliance
In many ways, privacy compliance is becoming more difficult with modern digital technology. This shift to digital technology and remote work has only been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The result is a changing work environment at many firms, which presents many moving targets for your firm’s privacy compliance goals.
Consider just some of the risks of an office with many remote workers. A firm’s computer system may now be decentralized, which potentially exposes the firm to cybersecurity threats. With attorneys and staff increasingly using their own personal devices, such as computers, phones and networks, this also opens up your firm to greater data breach exposure.
With or without remote work, your firm is always at risk of an insider security threat – an internal threat posed by employees or third-party contractors. These “insiders” may leak sensitive data or allow hackers to access data, and their actions may be intentional or unintentional. Phishing and malware are two common cyber attacks against law firms that take advantage of these vulnerabilities.
How technology provides privacy compliance solutions
All of these dangers aside, the fact is that your firm cannot afford to cut itself off from technology for the sake of privacy compliance. Fortunately, there are numerous ways in which technology can also enhance your data security. Consider below some of the more compelling areas where tech can help out with your firm’s privacy compliance.
Encryption protects your data by requiring a key or password for access. Ideally, your firm’s encryption software should provide both at-rest and in-transit encryption, to protect data while it is either stored or transmitted.
Securing your firm’s communications is vital, including emails and other communication channels. Possible methods include email encryption or the use of communication apps that provide end-to-end encryption.
User identity verification
Since cyber hackers often steal user credentials to gain access, stronger verification of user identity makes sense. One common option is two-factor authentication, where an additional factor beyond a password is required, such as a randomized code sent to a cell phone.
Strong password protection
Password management tools can create stronger passwords that are long, complex, and therefore less easy to guess. The password policy settings on your firm’s software could also help to ensure password strength.
A secure mobile app could help secure work done from the laptops and smartphones of your firm’s legal professionals. Be sure to include the other points listed here in your mobile security plans, such as encryption and user identity verification.
Activity monitoring solution
Your firm could also employ an activity monitoring solution. This software can continuously monitor user activity on your firm’s systems and provide alerts for any suspicious activity, as well as the means to review any security incidents.
Choosing vendors wisely
Ensure your legal technology vendors are not opening your firm up to cyber-attacks. Check on their compliance with cyber security standards. This is especially important with cloud-based technology, which can actually increase security when the right solution is implemented.
Privacy compliance is an achievable goal for your law firm, and you don’t have to limit your technology use to reach it. In fact, technology can provide the answers and streamline your data security. There is enough risk in the legal profession already, so best to ensure your cybersecurity risks are minimized.
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