Secure File Sharing for Law Firms and Lawyers: Ensuring Confidentiality in the Compliance Era
Law firms and lawyers share confidential information every day with their clients online. With cyber threats on the rise, however, ensuring the security of sensitive information has become a top priority. In this blog post, you will learn some of the best practices for secure file sharing with legal clients, including encryption, password protection, and secure file transfer protocols.
The Risks of Insecure File Sharing
Law firms and lawyers who engage in insecure file sharing invite unnecessary risk to the client and to the firm. The consequences of insecure file sharing are severe. Insecure file sharing, for example, can lead to a data breach, compromising sensitive information including financial data, personally identifiable information and protected health information (PII/PHI), and of course, confidential legal documents. Insecure file sharing that results in a data breach can lead to a compliance violation, financial penalties, litigation, and reputational damage. It can also damage, perhaps irreparably, the relationship between the firm and its clients. Here is a closer look at some of the risks associated with insecure file sharing and examples of how they can affect law firms, lawyers, and their clients.
Loss of Confidential Information
One of the most significant risks of law firms and lawyers using insecure file sharing is the loss of confidential information. Law firms and lawyers process, store, send, and share sensitive information nearly every day with clients, courts, opposing counsel, and other trusted partners. Sensitive content can include employment agreements, bankruptcy documents, healthcare records, copyright and patent filings, and much more. If hackers intercept this sensitive information, it can have significant consequences, including financial losses, litigation, reputational damage, compliance violations, and more. The Panama Papers, for example, was a massive data leak in 2016 that exposed over 11 million confidential documents belonging to a Panamanian law firm. The documents revealed how the firm helped wealthy individuals and organizations set up offshore accounts and shell companies to evade taxes and hide their wealth. The leak led to international scrutiny and investigations and resulted in the resignation of several high-profile individuals and politicians.
Breach of Client-attorney Privilege
Insecure file sharing can also result in a breach of client-attorney privilege. Lawyers have a legal obligation to keep their clients’ information confidential. A data breach that stems from insecure file sharing, like a lawyer accidentally sharing confidential information with the wrong client, could irreparably damage the client-attorney relationship. Repercussions could include revenue loss, reputational damage, compliance violations, litigation, and more
Cyberattacks and Malware Infections
Insecure file sharing can also increase the risk of cyberattacks and malware infections. Hackers can use malicious software or launch cyberattacks like man-in-the-middle attacks to access sensitive information and disrupt legal practices. A law firm for example could fall victim to a ransomware attack and lose access to critical files and systems, preventing lawyers from meeting project deadlines, trying cases, or serving clients efficiently and effectively.
Compromised Data Integrity
Insecure file sharing can also compromise data integrity. If files are tampered with during transfer or storage, for example, an unauthorized user accesses and alters a contract after it has been approved or agreed upon, it could derail a project. This could call into question a law firm’s ability to serve its clients professionally or even ethically. Data integrity issues stemming from unsecure file sharing can also result in litigation, financial repercussions, and reputational damage.
Insecure file sharing can also result in noncompliance with industry regulations. Many industries, like healthcare and financial services, have strict regulations regarding storing and sharing confidential information. If a law firm fails to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA), or a regional data privacy regulation like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), it could result in significant legal, financial, and reputational repercussions.
Best Practices for Secure File Sharing
There are several secure file sharing best practices law firms and lawyers can follow to protect their client’s privacy, preserve sensitive information, and sustain a reputation of integrity. These best practices include, but are not limited to:
Using encryption techniques, legal practices can protect sensitive information, even if it falls into the wrong hands. AES-256 encryption is a powerful tool for protecting sensitive client information where it is stored. Another technique is encryption of data in motion, like TLS 1.2, which encrypts files when shared between a lawyer and client or vice versa. One popular technique is end-to-end encryption, ensuring sensitive emails and files remain encrypted from the moment they leave a sender’s email outbox to the moment they hit a recipient’s email inbox. This is particularly useful for confidential information, such as financial or medical records.
Password protection is a critical aspect of secure file sharing. Passwords should be firm and unique, combining uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Passwords should also be changed frequently, such as every 90 days, to prevent unauthorized access. In addition, legal practices should consider implementing password policies requiring minimum password lengths and complexity and policies that lock out users after multiple failed attempts. By using strong passwords and implementing password policies, legal practices can reduce the risk of data breaches and ensure that only authorized parties have access to sensitive information.
Two-factor or multi-factor authentication is another layer of security that law firms and lawyers can use to protect sensitive client content against unauthorized access. Two-factor authentication requires an additional form beyond a password, such as an SMS text code to a mobile device or a biometric scan. By requiring two forms of authentication, law firms and lawyers can reduce the risk of password-based attacks, like credential stuffing and brute-force attacks, and ensure that only authorized parties have access to sensitive information. Two-factor authentication can be particularly useful for remote workers, who may have to access sensitive data from outside the office.
Secure File Transfer Protocols
During a file transfer, law firms and lawyers can protect sensitive information using Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) to reduce the risk of a data breach. Secure file transfer protocols like SFTP and HTTPS are essential for secure file sharing. These protocols use data encryption to protect files during transfer, ensuring unauthorized parties cannot intercept files or content. HTTPS, for example, is a particular version of HTTP that uses encryption to protect web traffic.
Regular Software Updates and Patches
Regularly updating software and installing security patches is critical for secure file sharing. This is because software updates often include necessary security patches that address vulnerabilities and protect against potential threats. Law firms and lawyers should ensure that all software, including operating systems, file sharing platforms, and systems that process or store sensitive content, like customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, are regularly updated and patched. In addition, law firms and lawyers should consider using software specifically designed for secure file sharing, as these solutions often include advanced security features that can protect against potential threats.
Team Member Training and Education
Team member training and education are crucial aspects of secure file sharing. All employees should be trained to identify and avoid threats like phishing emails. Law firms should provide lawyers and staff regular cybersecurity awareness training sessions, including best password management practices, identifying potential threats, and using secure file sharing best practices. In addition, law firms should consider implementing a cybersecurity policy that outlines the organization’s security practices and expectations.
User Access Control
User access control is a critical aspect of secure file sharing. Law firms and lawyers should ensure that only authorized employees, for example only lawyers and staff assigned to specific matters or cases, should have access to sensitive content. Law firms and lawyers should also limit the duration authorized users have access to sensitive content. Once a project or case is over, it’s unlikely staff, contractors, or trusted third parties will require access. Files and folders should therefore be protected with an expiration date.
Monitoring and Auditing
Monitoring and auditing are essential for maintaining the security of confidential legal information. A proper secure file sharing solution should monitor access to sensitive files and log all user actions, like who sent what to whom and when. This information supports data integrity, regulatory compliance, and helps to identify any suspicious activity.
What Law Firms and Lawyers Should Look for in a Secure File Sharing Solution
Choosing the right file sharing solution is crucial for law firms and lawyers in preserving attorney-client confidentiality. Here are some factors to consider when selecting a secure file sharing solution:
Robust Security Features
Security should be a top priority regarding secure file sharing with legal clients. Look for a file sharing solution that offers robust security features such as encryption, password protection, and granular access controls. These security features can help to prevent unauthorized access, data breaches, and data loss. In addition, you should make sure that the file sharing solution you choose meets your organization’s data protection and compliance requirements. For example, if you work with clients in the healthcare industry, you may need to comply with HIPAA. Therefore, you should look for a file sharing solution that is HIPAA-compliant and meets the necessary privacy and security requirements.
Ease of Use
While email and file security is critical, the file sharing solution should also be easy to use. It should not require extensive technical knowledge, and the user interface should be easy to navigate. A complex file sharing solution can lead to employee inefficiency, confusion, and errors, and the user may end up using an unsecure, unsanctioned consumer file sharing application instead. Therefore, law firms and lawyers should look for a file sharing solution that is intuitive. The solution should allow users to upload, download, open, access, and share files with just a few clicks. Additionally, a secure file sharing solution should provide clear instructions and support to help users get started and stay productive.
Integration With Other Tools
The file sharing solution should integrate with other tools used by legal professionals. For example, it should blend with iManage and other document management systems, email clients, and calendars. This integration can streamline workflows and improve efficiency. When choosing a secure file sharing solution, consider the other tools your firm and lawyers use daily, like Microsoft Outlook and Office 365, including Microsoft OneDrive. Look for a solution that offers plugins to seamlessly integrate with these tools and allow lawyers and staff to share files directly from within those applications. This can save time and reduce the risk of errors.
Law firms should add more users and storage as the organization grows. Therefore, the file sharing solution should be scalable to meet your organization’s changing needs. Look for a solution that can accommodate growth and is easy to upgrade. When selecting a file sharing solution, consider your firm’s current and future needs. Look for a solution that can quickly scale to meet your needs as your organization grows. Additionally, the answer should offer flexible pricing plans that allow you to add more users and storage as needed.
Consider the features and benefits essential to your firm, and choose a secure file sharing solution that meets those needs. The cost of the file sharing solution is also a crucial factor to consider. Look for a solution that fits your budget and offers value for money. When selecting a secure file sharing solution, it’s essential to consider the total cost of ownership. This includes the upfront and ongoing costs of using the solution, such as storage, maintenance, and support fees. Look for a secure file sharing solution offering a transparent pricing structure and good value for money.
Secure File Sharing for Law Firms and Lawyers: A Kiteworks Specialty
Secure file sharing is an essential tool for law firms and lawyers. The ability to collaborate on sensitive legal documents and share this content with partners and colleagues without compromising security is critical to the success of any firm. The Kiteworks Private Content Networks (PCN) offers a range of secure file sharing capabilities, including virtual data rooms (VDRs), managed file transfer (MFT), collaboration, boardroom communications, and SFTP, to meet the needs of modern organizations. Double encryption, unified visibility, hardened virtual appliance, security integrations, and deployment flexibility together provide law firms and lawyers comprehensive and robust protection of all legal content.
For organizations looking to see the Kiteworks Private Content Network in action, including its secure file sharing capabilities, schedule a customer demo today.
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