Defending Your Law Firm Against Cyber Threats

C. Todd Doss April 8, 2024

Defending Your Law Firm Against Cyber Threats: A Comprehensive Guide

In an increasingly digitized world, law firms are prime targets for sophisticated cyber threats that can result in substantial financial losses and reputational damage. Recently, a prominent law firm, esteemed for its client-centric approach, found itself ensnared in a meticulously planned cyberattack. This incident serves as a stark reminder of the perilous landscape of cyberspace and underscores the critical importance of robust cybersecurity measures within the legal profession.

Understanding Business Email Compromises (BECs)

Business Email Compromises (BECs), also known as CEO fraud or man-in-the-email attacks, are among the most insidious cyber threats facing law firms today. These attacks exploit human vulnerabilities to orchestrate fraudulent schemes, often resulting in significant financial losses. To comprehend the gravity of the situation, let’s dissect the anatomy of a BEC attack:

Vendor Email Compromise (VEC):

  • Cybercriminals impersonate trusted vendors, clients or suppliers to deceive employees into authorizing fraudulent wire transfers.
  • By providing seemingly legitimate banking details, these criminals redirect funds to their own accounts, leaving the firm at a loss.

CEO Impersonation:

  • In this scenario, cybercriminals impersonate high-ranking executives within the firm to manipulate employees into taking unauthorized actions.
  • Leveraging trust and authority, these attackers coerce staff into disclosing sensitive information or facilitating illicit transactions.

AI-Powered Attacks:

  • Cybercriminals harness artificial intelligence tools to craft sophisticated phishing emails that mimic natural language.
  • These AI-generated messages evade detection more effectively, increasing the likelihood of successful infiltration.

Deepfakes in Virtual Meetings:

  • Using deepfake technology, cybercriminals create convincing audio or video recordings to impersonate firm executives.
  • By exploiting this deceptive tactic during virtual meetings, they enhance the credibility of their fraudulent requests.

Navigating a Man-in-the-Middle Attack: A Timeline of Events

Now, let’s investigate a real-life scenario exemplifying the devastating consequences of a man-in-the-middle attack on a law firm’s financial integrity. Explore the timeline below to understand how cybercriminals exploited vulnerabilities within the firm’s email communication channels,

Day 1: Monday, 9:00 AM

John, a partner at a prestigious law firm, begins his workday by checking his email. Among his messages, he notices an urgent email from a client, Sarah Johnson, seeking an update on the bank account details for an impending settlement payment.

  • What John and the law firm don’t know, is a cybercriminal recently infiltrated Sarah’s email account through a phishing attack. By intercepting the email exchange between John and Sarah, the cybercriminal assumed a deceptive role as an intermediary. Consequently, the email John read at 9:00 AM purportedly from Sarah’s email account was sent by the cybercriminal.
  • In an effort to conceal their illicit activities, the cybercriminal accessed Sarah’s email settings and configured an Outlook rule to clandestinely reroute any responses from John or the law firm’s email domain to a concealed folder. This strategic maneuver ensured that John remained unaware of any authentic replies from Sarah or the law firm.

Day 1: Monday, 9:30 AM

Trusting the email’s legitimacy, as it came from Sarah’s known email account John promptly responds to Sarah’s request asking her for new banking information to process the payment.

  • Although this email originated from Sarah’s genuine account, she won’t receive any of John’s emails due to the Outlook rule implemented by the cybercriminal.

Day 2: Tuesday, 10:00 AM

The cybercriminal, who has access to Sarah’s email, replies to John’s inquiry by sending him what he believes are Sarah’s updated bank account details for the settlement payment.

Day 2: Tuesday, 11:00 AM

John receives the cybercriminals response from Sarah’s email account and updates the law firm’s financial records with the new banking information provided.

Day 3: Wednesday, 9:00 AM

John and the law firm finalize the payment process, transferring the settlement funds to the bank account specified in the fraudulent email sent by the cybercriminal.

Day 3:  Wednesday, 9:30 AM

John emails Sarah to advise her the funds were transferred.

  • Sarah does not receive this due to the Outlook rule that was implemented.

Day 4: Thursday, 10:00 AM

The real Sarah contacts John by telephone, expressing confusion and concern about the status of the settlement payment, as she has not received the funds in her bank account, and asks if he has received any of her emails.

Day 4: Thursday, 10:30 AM

John investigates the matter further but finds no response from Sarah or the law firm in his inbox. Suspecting a technical glitch, he contacts Sarah by telephone.  Independently, they contacted their respective IT departments for assistance.

Day 4: Thursday, 12:00 PM

After further investigation, Sarah’s IT department discovers the Outlook rule set up by the cybercriminal and alerts Sarah and John about the potential security breach.

Day 4: Thursday, 1:00 PM

Realizing that the law firm has fallen victim to a man-in-the-middle attack orchestrated by cybercriminals, Sarah, John and the law firm management team take immediate action to mitigate the damage, notify law enforcement authorities, and implement enhanced cybersecurity measures to prevent similar incidents in the future. Now faced with the challenge of recuperating the lost funds, Sarah, John and the law firm must navigate the delicate task of determining responsibility and deciding how to address the financial losses incurred.

Mitigating Cyber Risks with Expert Consultation

To enhance defenses against cyber threats, law firms can greatly benefit from partnering with cybersecurity consultants specializing in navigating the complexities of digital security. By leveraging their expert guidance, firms can proactively implement measures to protect their assets and uphold their reputation.

One key aspect of this defense strategy involves various assessments aimed at preventing man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks. These assessments include:

Security Risk Assessments: These evaluations scrutinize the law firm’s overall security posture, identifying vulnerabilities and potential entry points for cyber threats like MITM attacks. By gaining insights into weaknesses in the firm’s systems and processes, appropriate measures can be implemented to mitigate risks effectively.

Network Vulnerability Assessments: These assessments focus on pinpointing vulnerabilities within the law firm’s network infrastructure, such as unsecured Wi-Fi networks or outdated software. Addressing these vulnerabilities can significantly reduce the likelihood of unauthorized access by cybercriminals.

Email Security Assessments: Given that many MITM attacks involve intercepting email communications, these assessments are crucial. They evaluate the effectiveness of the firm’s email security protocols, including spam filters, malware detection, and encryption, to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information.

Penetration Testing: Also known as ethical hacking, penetration testing involves simulating cyber-attacks to identify weaknesses in the firm’s systems and applications. By testing defenses against MITM attacks and other cyber threats, vulnerabilities can be identified and addressed proactively.

Employee Training and Awareness Programs: Assessing employees’ cybersecurity knowledge and awareness of potential threats is essential. Training programs educate employees on recognizing suspicious emails, avoiding clicking on malicious links, and reporting any unusual activity to the IT department.

It is abundantly clear that the potential harm from cyber threats facing law firms is higher than ever before. These vulnerabilities highlight the critical need for robust cybersecurity measures. It’s imperative for law firms, regardless of their size, to take proactive steps in fortifying their defenses against cyber-attacks.

Conducting the assessments regularly and implementing appropriate security measures, law firms can strengthen their defenses against MITM attacks and other cyber threats. This safeguards their sensitive data and maintains client trust, crucial in today’s digital landscape.

Partnering with a trusted cybersecurity consultant brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, offering tailored solutions to mitigate risks and safeguard your firm’s assets and reputation. Additionally, consultants aid in policy development and incident response planning, further enhancing the firm’s resilience against cyber threats.

C. Todd Doss

Senior Managing Director

Christopher “Todd” Doss has a diverse background in managing and coordinating responses to complex security incidents, including but not limited to cyber-attacks, data breaches, and insider threats. Having led more than 4,000 cyber incident responses and investigations, he has gained an in-depth knowledge of designing and executing response plans and leading cybersecurity risk management projects.