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Can Marketing Make Your Law Firm Vulnerable to Cyberattacks? Absolutely

By Michael Maschke, Sharon Nelson and John Simek

The objectives of marketing and law firm cybersecurity are not the same.

law firm cyber security

On the one hand, you want to get the word out about your law firm, its lawyers and its services. Inevitability, that means giving away information that might be used by a cybercriminal. Every piece of information you give a cybercriminal may be weaponized. The more sophisticated the attacker, the more they will ferret out information (especially in wire fraud cases!) to use against you.

The marketing objective is to get clients. The cybersecurity objective is to keep your data safe. Those two objectives are often at odds with one another.

Law Firm Websites

Take a hard look at your law firm’s website. Not every element discussed below will be on every law firm website, but a lot of them will be. Think about the ramifications of each element.

Typically, law firms give a glowing description of their practices, including history and number of attorneys, and some list clients. There has been a real shift in the last few years toward having attorneys’ emails included on their bio pages too. We did an informal survey of law firm websites, including those of BigLaw, and were amazed at how many included the email addresses of their lawyers.

Certainly, they are right to do that from a marketing point of view. Law firms will receive many more emails from prospective clients with an email address listed on the firm site. It’s instantaneous contact with a lawyer — which is what prospective clients want.

We do the same thing — because it works.

Many sites also have extensive bios that give away all kinds of information about a lawyer’s education, former employers, office phone number, listings of honors and recognitions, and sometimes, in an attempt to humanize lawyers, personal information, including the names of wives and children, hobbies and the like. Attorney photos are customarily included — and have been known to be hijacked to create phony profiles or websites. Law firms often post videos or podcasts rife with information useful to a cybercriminal. We think it’s marketing but in the cyber world, it’s called advanced reconnaissance.

What Are You Doing About Security?

Have you had your network security — including the security of your website — professionally assessed? Law firm web applications can be a way to steal your data or exploit vulnerabilities in your network. The harm that can be done does not bear contemplation. Yet again, another reason to host your firm’s website somewhere not connected to your network.

For most law firms, a security assessment will suffice. If your firm is big enough, you may want a penetration test in which “good actors” act like “bad actors” to see if they can penetrate your network and what damage they can do. Penetration tests are far more expensive than assessments, so we generally recommend them only for larger law firms.

There are a lot of ways to fail an assessment, and they will all be identified in an assessment report, but here are a few to think about. If you don’t encrypt emails with sensitive data, have two-factor authentication enabled, an endpoint detection and response solution and a way to monitor for attacks, you will fail the assessment. The good news is that you will have identified all critical vulnerabilities and can address them immediately, while you figure out how and when to address the lesser vulnerabilities.

Reviews and Testimonials on Your Website

Reviews and testimonials praising your work can be very useful marketing tools. Law firms often seek client testimonials for their website, understandably. However, unless the contents are carefully vetted, they may disclose information that would help a criminal target your clients. Not at all what you intended, but a real danger in today’s world. If they impersonate your email address and target your client, the consequences could be serious.

Email Signatures

Signatures have grown in size in many cases. Lawyers list many things about their firm, the firm’s physical address, the areas of law they practice in, honors and certifications, social media handles, email addresses, the firm’s social media sites and more. Today, this constitutes good marketing.

Someone who is targeting you or your law firm, especially in a sophisticated cyberattack, will gather information from your email signature, hoping that some of it will prove useful in attacking your firm.

Law Firm and Lawyer Social Media Marketing

More attorneys use LinkedIn than any other social media site. There you will find much of the information cited above in the firm website. Commonly, lawyers list licenses and certifications, as well as their skills and recommendations from others. Then there are their publications, honors and awards, and their interests.

Should you accept a contact invitation, that person (by default) will be able to see your other contacts. Unfortunately, the contact invitation may be bogus so that a cybercriminal can maximize the chance that you will accept their invitation.

Of course, you may also be using Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites. No matter what social media you use, think about what you are posting and any possible damage that could result from your posts.

Remember that social media accounts of law firms and lawyers have been compromised by criminals, so that they can see all your connections and even impersonate you to send phishing messages trying to trick the clients into clicking on a link or attachment. Commonly, if they have an email address, the bad guys will send your client a bill.

If they get useful information, they may sell it to other cybercriminals on the dark web.

Law Firms Exist in a Dangerous World

Law firms are a one-stop shop for cybercriminals. Successful attackers will reap the data of many clients in addition to that of the law firm. So what are you to do?

  • Establish and enforce a social media usage policy.
  • Train your employees, especially marketing employees, on cybersecurity, phishing and wire fraud.
  • Monitor the security of your email and your network.
  • Have a security assessment at least once a year.
  • Stay up to date on cybersecurity — threats and defenses against them change with unnerving speed!

Sharon D. Nelson is a practicing attorney and the president of Sensei Enterprises, Inc. She is a past president of the Virginia State Bar, the Fairfax Bar Association and the Fairfax Law Foundation. She is a co-author of 18 books published by the ABA.

John W. Simek is vice president of Sensei Enterprises, Inc. He is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and a nationally known expert in the area of digital forensics. He and Sharon provide legal technology, cybersecurity and digital forensics services from their Fairfax, Virginia, firm.

Michael C. Maschke is the CEO/Director of Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics of Sensei Enterprises.  He is an EnCase Certified Examiner, a Certified Computer Examiner, a Certified Ethical Hacker and an AccessData Certified Examiner. He is also a Certified Information Systems Security Professional.

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Categories: Lawyer Tech Tips, Legal Cybersecurity, Legal Technology, Small Law Firm
Originally published January 23, 2023
Last updated July 28, 2023
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