Cybersecurity Risks Posed by Law Firm Marketing
Law firm data breaches are on the rise. According to the 2020 Legal Technology Survey Report by the ABA, the number of firms that experienced a data breach increased from 26% to 29%. Meanwhile, the average cost of a data breach has reached a jaw-dropping $4.24 million.
Most law firms understand the importance of cybersecurity. But did you know that your marketing campaigns could be giving threat actors what they need to launch a cyberattack against your firm or even your clients?
That’s right, seemingly innocent promotional materials could be handing hackers the key to enter your tightly-guarded digital fortress.
How Do Marketing Campaigns Pose Cybersecurity Threats to Law Firms
Here’s how your marketing campaigns could be jeopardizing your data security:
Social Media Platforms
Many attorneys leverage word-of-mouth marketing to reach prospects and build trust. Social media platforms, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, give you the opportunities to get in front of a wide range of potential clients.
However, these channels can also expose your law firm to cybersecurity threats. Many lawyers have had their social media accounts compromised or taken over by cybercriminals. For example, a threat actor can connect with you on LinkedIn to access your network and see who your clients are. Next, they can impersonate you to send fake invoices or spam messages that trick recipients into downloading malware (e.g., by opening an attachment) or sharing their login credentials.
Since your clients trust you, they’re more likely to respond and follow the instructions when they get an “urgent” message from your account. Threat actors can leverage your reputation and use it against you to exploit your contact’s personal details and obtain client data.
Even if your account isn’t compromised, this type of cyber attack means that criminals can simply glean insights about your business from your social media profiles and posts to send phishing emails and get your clients to respond with sensitive information.
Social Proof and Testimonials
Sharing social proof, such as client testimonials, press releases, and case studies of high-profile deals is one of the best ways to build trust and credibility. However, such publicly accessible information can also give hackers what they need to target you and your clients.
Threat actors can use the content to learn about your clients, the businesses they’re in, and the types of services they may need. They can then sell this information to other crime syndicates or use it as bait in phishing campaigns.
In fact, 85% of cyberattacks start with a spear-phishing campaign. It involves sending emails that mimic the look and feel of communications from someone the recipient trusts to extract confidential information, trick them into wiring money, or deceive them into downloading malware.
Website and Landing Pages
Many law firms use websites and landing pages to support their lead generation efforts and market their services. You may have even developed some web apps (e.g., a calculator) to help drive traffic and provide more value to your audience. But this also raises the question: How secure are your website and landing pages?
Web applications can become entry points for hackers looking to steal client customer data, exploit vulnerabilities in your system, or conduct a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack to disrupt your services. Cybercriminals can also use the information shared in your marketing materials to create a fake website that looks like yours to trick visitors into sharing their personal data.
Additionally, criminals can hack into an unprotected WordPress site and leverage the site’s domain reputation to send spam emails and host malware. They may also take over your website and redirect the traffic to pages that sell controlled substances.
Compelling content is essential for attracting prospects, nurturing relationships, engaging existing clients, and enhancing your authority status. However, these seemingly innocuous articles could give threat actors enough information about your firm to impersonate you and defraud your clients.
Moreover, it’s not uncommon for marketing departments to forget to remove sensitive data before posting content online. Even if you manage to take down the information after a post is published, it’s possible for someone to find it in an archive without you even knowing that it exists.
Any content a law firm posts on the internet can be exploited by cybercriminals, whether it’s a blog post, video, or podcast; on a website or a third-party property (e.g., review sites, social media, forum, professional association sites, etc.)
The internet is essentially a giant information repository that criminals can dip into any time they want. Even if one piece of content doesn’t seem like a big deal, the information from different sources can add up over time allowing threat actors to piece together a complete picture to attack your company or clients for years to come.
Marketing Personalization and Email Communications
Marketing personalization is all the rage. In today’s consumer-centric environment, delivering a personalized client experience is no longer an option. However, the information you collect to implement personalization strategies (e.g., via web forms and landing pages) can be stolen and used against you and your clients.
For example, a threat actor can obtain your employees’ login credentials and infiltrate your practice management software or customer relationships management (CRM) system where client data is stored. They can then use the highly specific information to send spear-phishing emails to your clients.
Besides delivering a personalized experience to support marketing campaigns, email is also used extensively for transactional purposes (e.g., sending invoices, filing court documents.) You or your employees may be sending and receiving emails with sensitive information such as credentials and confidential client data (e.g., personal identifiable information, or PII) via a relatively insecure communication channel.
Threat actors can intercept these emails or hack into your account. Some are also known to monitor a law firm’s email communications over time. They may block messages and divert them from the recipients’ inboxes. When the moment comes, these criminals will impersonate the attorney to send fraudulent instructions to the clients (e.g., direct them to wire money.)
How Law Firms Can Stay Safe While Marketing Their Services
With cybercrime going rampant, no law firm is too small to be a target. Everyone will be at the cross-hair at some point.
Now you may think, isn’t law enforcement upping their game to catch cybercriminals?
Yes, but most of these threat actors are based in foreign countries that don’t have extradition agreements with the U.S. Unfortunately, that means it’s up to each of us to stay vigilant and implement the appropriate security measures:
Conduct a Risk Assessment
Risk assessment is a quotient of the probability of an incident happening and its impact. It helps you understand how a specific risk may affect your business. Conducted by an independent vendor, a risk assessment evaluates your cybersecurity posture. It looks at components including people, processes, and policies. You can then identify gaps and focus resources on risk management, mitigating issues most likely to affect your law firm.
Perform Penetration Testing
A penetration test, also called a certified ethical hacker attack or red team exercise, is an authorized simulated cyberattack on an information system performed to evaluate its security. The results will help you identify vulnerabilities that can be exploited by threat actors and remediation actions you can take to fix them.
Implement Internal Controls
Effective cybersecurity for law firms involves implementing internal controls for human resources, physical security, information technology, vendor management, and more. For example, you should implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) to prevent criminals from using stolen passwords to log into your network and cloud applications. Also, monitor all login activities to identify suspicious activities (e.g., a user logging in from Russia.)
Vet Your Third-Party Vendors
If you work with a marketing company, ensure that it has the processes in place to protect your information. If you use an independent marketing consultant, ensure that they have a high level of cybersecurity awareness and won’t get tricked into giving up login credentials to your network. Also, implement access control to limit the data they can access.
The same goes for the service providers that manage your website or IT infrastructure. In particular, many threat actors are attacking managed services providers (MSPs) to infiltrate multiple firms’ systems in one fell swoop.
Establish a Social Media Policy
A social media policy provides guidelines on what attorneys and staff can disclose about your law firm and its clients on social media and other third-party platforms (e.g., review sites.) Keep in mind that a small piece of information may seem harmless, but threat actors can piece together bits and pieces from many social media posts to learn enough about your clients to launch a spear-phishing campaign.
Monitor Email Security
Implement a system to monitor all your inbound and outbound emails so you can detect any suspicious activity. Encrypt emails and set up a domain-based message authentication (DMARC) record to identify spoof emails and prevent them from being sent in your name. You can also use a secure cloud-based portal for client intake and document management to eliminate the need to exchange sensitive information and documents via email.
Educate Your Employees
Human errors are often the weakest link in the cybersecurity chain. Implement an employee training program and use phishing simulations to ensure staff members are aware of the need fo data security and know how to protect sensitive information. Additionally, every employee must get into the habit of removing potentially sensitive or private data before sharing or publishing any content online. In fact, all the content intended for your website or company’s social media page should first be reviewed and approved.
Cybersecurity for Law Firm Marketing
The legal industry is competitive. Marketing must be part of your growth strategy for acquiring and retaining clients. But you need the necessary security controls to do it safely. Remember that anything you publish online, including blog articles, client details, contact information, and more, can be exploited by cybercriminals to attack your firm and your clients.
The most successful law firms understand the risks. Instead of sticking their neck in the sand, they proactively implement frameworks to protect their systems and educate their attorneys to spot suspicious activities.
Many also work with a managed security service provider (MSSP) that specializes in the legal vertical to help them conduct risks assessments, implement the latest cybersecurity best practices, provide employee training, and monitor their systems 24/7 to ensure that all their bases are covered.
Read the original American Bar Association (ABA) article here