Law firm insider threat to data security

Law Firm Data Breaches Still a Concern in the UK and AU

Insider data breaches continue to pose a serious threat to the UK legal sector, according to NetDocuments. Based on analysis of the latest data from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) covering Q3 2022 – Q2 2023, more than half (60 per cent) of identified data breaches in the UK legal sector were caused by insiders. By comparison, 40 per cent of data breaches came from outside threats, such as external malicious actors.

The findings show that, combined, data from legal firms relating to 4.2 million people was compromised – amounting to 6% of the UK population. Almost half of the cases (49 per cent) impacted customers, and 13 per cent impacted employees. Basic personal information (49 per cent), economic and financial data(13 per cent), health data (10 per cent), and official documents (10 per cent)were the main types of data breaches in the legal sector.

“Law firms and legal institutions handle vast amounts of sensitive and confidential information, which puts them at increased risk of cyber-attacks,” commented David Hansen, VP of Compliance at NetDocuments. “But it’s not just external threats like ransomware that law firms need to watch out for. Law firms must be vigilant to insider data breaches – whether intentional or accidental. This requires robust cyber security measures to govern access to documents without hampering staff productivity.”

The analysis of the ICO data highlights the common causes of data breaches in the legal sector:

    • 37% occurred from sharing data with the wrong person (i.e., via email, post or verbally)
    • 27% occurred from phishing and ransomware attacks.
    • 12% occurred from losing data (i.e., loss/theft of a device containing personal data or of paperwork or data left in an insecure location)
    • 39% occurred from human error (i.e., verbal disclosure; failure to redactor use bcc; alteration of data; hardware misconfiguration; documents emailed or posted to the wrong recipient)

In addition to the above, the Notifiable Data Breaches Report: January to June 2023, published by The Australian Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, stated that the top causes of human error breaches were:

    1. PI was sent to the incorrect email recipient - 46%
    2. Unauthorised disclosure (unintended release or publication) - 18%
    3. Loss of paperwork/data storage device - 9%

The findings underline the need for law firms to prioritise addressing threats from within, ensuring that only people with authorisation have access to certain documents and files.

“For law firms, guarding against insider threats is not just a matter of protecting data; it's a commitment to safeguarding client and employee confidentiality,” David Hansen continued. “Data Loss Prevention must be an essential part of cybersecurity strategies. Taking this proactive approach can help law firms fortify their defences and prevent exfiltration and the unauthorised or inappropriate use of data.”

Subscribe to the Legal Practice Intelligence fortnightly eBulletin. Follow the links to access more articles related to the business of law and legal technology.    

Disclaimer:  The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Novum Learning or Legal Practice Intelligence (LPI). While every attempt has been made to ensure that the information in this article has been obtained from reliable sources, neither Novum Learning or LPI nor the author is responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information, as the content published here is for information purposes only. The article does not constitute a comprehensive or complete statement of the matters discussed or the law relating thereto and does not constitute professional and/or financial advice.

Back to blog