Over 20 per cent of large law firm's internet data is infiltrated

27th Oct 2012

“Most lawyers have a high level of confidential information on their computers, yet a survey of the profession, last year, found that 21% of all large law firms and 15% of other firms suffered a security breach in that time,” solicitor and consulting ethicist, Neil Watt, told the Australian Lawyers Alliance conference in Adelaide today.

“Despite these alarming statistics, many law firms rarely review their security systems and are sitting ducks for hackers or industrial spies looking for information on their clients,” he said.

Mr Watt told the conference of 150 lawyers and academics – some of whom had travelled from as far away as the United Kingdom and the United States to attend – that the internet and mobile communication devices had changed the way people worked and thought and lawyers must remain mindful and vigilant when storing client information using it.

“For lawyers this throws up some great opportunities, but also presents some real risks," he told the audience at the Stamford Grand in Glenelg.

“Secure use of social media, metadata, cloud file storage, off-shoring, virtual lawyering, smart phones and tablets also really need to be examined. Even email presents some risks if we're not on the ball,” he said.

Mr Watt said around two million emails were sent every minute and many of the most common security breaches occurred when a user hit ‘reply all’. Other common security breaches resulted from lost or stolen mobile devices, yet only about half the profession bothered using passwords.

“Metadata is another problem. Many lawyers don't know what it is yet, but every time we prepare a Word document it is present. Every draft and every comment that has gone into the making of the final document can be retrieved by the reader. The risk to confidentiality is obvious.

"In terms of social media, we now spend 22% of our online time in this environment and while sites such as Twitter, Facebook and MySpace can be a great source of information - how far should lawyers go in gathering information on the ‘other side’ using social media? How much can lawyers say about their work in social media and how much should they allow their staff to share?"

Mr Watt said cloud computing solved a lot of age-old storage problems for lawyers, but there were still risks and lawyers have serious obligations to do their due diligence on providers before surrendering client information to them.

Tags: South Australia