Ransomware attacks are affecting every type of business in America, and law firms are no exception. For those new to the term, ransomware is a type of malware that operates by encrypting files on a system and demanding that a ransom be paid to have them decrypted. While encrypted, these files are unable to be accessed, which can be a huge issue when they are needed for day-to-day business operations. The problem worsens when personally identifiable information such as names, birthdates and Social Security numbers are compromised. Law firms are often a treasure trove of sensitive information and make attractive targets for cyber criminals, as compromising a firm typically garners a big payout.
Sources: Media Reports, Symantec
Recently, the most advanced ransomware on the planet rampaged throughout the world affecting hospitals in England, universities in China, rail systems in Germany and even auto plants in Japan. Named WannaCry, this malware was made possible by stolen National Security Agency cyber weapons and could spread throughout a network due to a previously unknown vulnerability. Once a system had been compromised, WannaCry would encrypt files and display a notice to the user demanding payment of $300 in Bitcoins, a nearly untraceable digital currency, or the amount would double to $600 within three days. If the amount was not paid within a week, all files would be permanently deleted.
From a business standpoint, it’s a lot easier to pay the ransom since it’s a quick fix to a potentially disastrous problem. Additionally, because of modern encryption, it’s impossible to retrieve those files any other way. The likely scenario, however, would involve all systems in a network to be compromised bringing the ransom figure well into the thousands. The cyber criminals on the other side of the attack profit immensely from the use of this extortion.
Earlier this year, Moses Alfonso Ryan LTD, a prominent law firm in Providence, Rhode Island, was crippled by ransomware that demanded payment of a staggering $25,000. After paying the amount, the initial key to decrypt its records failed to work causing the firm to lose approximately $700,000 in lost billings over a three-month period. This resulted in a lawsuit against their insurer Sentinel Insurance Co. for breach of contract and bad faith after it denied its claim.
The question arises of what can be done to protect your business. Ransomware is normally introduced into a network or system via an email attachment that causes it to be installed once opened. Most users are smart enough to avoid unknown emails, however as technology has advanced, criminals have also become smarter. As one law firm put it, “We’ve had emails come to our lawyers purportedly from third-year law students enclosing their resumes … it wasn’t a resume, it was ransomware.” Because of the specific targeting used, determining what separates a legitimate email from spam and malware becomes tricky. It would be naïve to think that avoiding emails would prevent a malware outbreak. To be fully prepared, law firms need to take it one step further and follow best practices when it comes to safeguarding their business and clients.
Update Your Operating System
Not long after WannaCry was released, researchers were able to determine the vulnerability that was being exploited to allow the malware to spread undetected. This vulnerability was present in the Windows operating systems dating back to Windows XP. Microsoft was quick to react and pushed out a patch through Windows Update. Not every malware on the Internet makes use of such complicated vulnerabilities, and there is a good chance that simply by keeping your systems up to date you can avoid a plethora of potential attacks.
In the event that you are attacked and your files are encrypted, having a backup of your data allows you to simply roll back to a point before the attack, allowing you to avoid having to pay the ransom. Backups should be made as frequently as feasibly possible, weekly at a minimum, but preferably on a daily basis. It’s also extremely important to test these backups to ensure they are working as intended. Lastly, malware often spreads to other systems on your network, so an offsite location to house these backups or even cloud storage would be preferable.
Similar to updating your operating system, an antivirus is your system’s first line of defense when it comes to malware. Have antivirus software, make sure it’s regularly updated, and run it on a weekly basis.
Ransomware poses a big threat to law firms, which rely on technology to run a practice. As was seen by the Rhode Island law firm, malware can have a tremendously negative effect on your firm’s finances. Being informed about how ransomware works, best practices in dealing with attacks, as well as setting up preventative and protective measures can prevent your firm from becoming a victim.