By Aaron H. Wallace, Esq.
In a perfect world, a crisis would bring out the best in everyone. But bad actors see opportunity in an emergency. It’s a potential field day for fraudsters, and Florida lawyers should be on red alert.
If COVID-19 has pushed your practice into last-minute transitions, you could be susceptible to a whole host of cybersecurity threats: hacking, malware, ransomware, wire fraud, the interception of confidential information, and so on.
What follows is a risk alert and advisory to help you understand the threat and avoid it. We’ll cover everything from IT readiness and employee training to cyber liability insurance coverage for Florida lawyers and beyond.
Related: Coronavirus Ethics Tips & Checklist for Florida Lawyers
Check in With Your IT Team
If you’re using remote software to connect your team or access files remotely, make sure your security controls are up to date and can guard against the latest threats.
Cybersecurity is never a one-and-done proposition. Today’s best-fortified software might need a new patch tomorrow. Hackers are good at what they do, and they’re constantly on the prowl. Having an IT team you can trust to keep you on pace with technology is absolutely critical.
A few points of discussion for your IT conference this week:
- Have we activated network event logs to record each time someone accesses our network, whether in the office or from a remote location?
- Have we enabled multifactor authentication across all points of entry for the network? When’s the last time we tested to confirm it’s working as expected?
- Are staff members able to access the office network and shared files through a secure VPN?
- What security software might be needed on staff members’ personal laptops?
Check in With Your Colleagues and Employees
As with diets, exercise regiments, and New Year’s resolutions, a lawyer’s resolve to be careful with things like email and social media can wane over time.
That’s why top-of-mind awareness is such an important concept. By reminding your team (and yourself) that cybercriminals are real and active, you’ll be less likely to fall for an email hack or phishing attack.
Even if everyone in the firm has sat through cybersecurity training in the past, reiteration may prove useful. You can never learn a good lesson too many times.
Now is an especially precarious time because people are distracted. They’re transitioning to remote work, they’re reading news, they’re trying to find hand soap and bottled water, they’re using email more often than ever.
Cybercriminals know this, and they’re ready to pounce. Here’s what you can do to guard against them:
- Remind your team just how easily fraudulent emails can be manipulated to look legitimate.
- Use official lines of communication to inform your staff about file sharing systems, teleconferencing software, and protocols that the firm will use going forward. Urge them to resist invitations to use any other systems for those purposes without verifiable confirmation from the firm.
- Reiterate that phone calls from outside lines could be from impostors. Bad actors know you’re expecting contacts to call you from new numbers this month. If they’ve gained access to your computer, emails, or office network, they may use the sensitive information they learned there to perpetrate a scam. Encourage yourself and your fellow staff to be skeptical. Scrutiny is your first defense in the war on cybercrime.
- Ask your IT team to run training modules or simulations for every staff member (attorneys, paralegals, support staff, etc.).
A Special Note for Real Estate Lawyers in Florida
Real estate transactions continue to rank among the most enticing and profitable target for bad actors. Real estate attorneys and closing agents are urged to exercise extreme vigilance against the threat of wire fraud.
While the usual ethical duties and best practice standards continue to apply during the coronavirus pandemic, attorneys should be mindful of the new and unique considerations that this current situation might entail. Do your wire controls currently involve face-to-face confirmation, for example? If so, to what extent are those controls threatened (or made less effective) by migrating to remote communications?
It is helpful to convey the reality of these threats to clients as well. Criminals may attempt to intercept communications at any stage of the transaction, and so clients are as likely to be targeted as attorneys. Clients who are not sophisticated in real estate transactions or well versed in technology may be especially vulnerable to fraud.
Pay close to attention to any real estate closings that might be switching to a virtual closing format at the last minute. A sudden change in plans can result in miscommunication or confusion, creating a susceptibility to fraud.
Beware any communications that pressure you to rush the transfer of funds. We are aware of at least one situation in another state where, already, a criminal has attempted to capitalize on the current coronavirus pandemic. In that situation, a bad actor intercepted information about a transaction and then posed as the seller, insisting that the proceeds be wired immediately in order to invest them in the stock market while the prices were low. The impostor threatened a malpractice suit and ethics grievance against the targeted lawyer if they did not transfer funds right away. Wisely, the lawyer suspected malicious activity and sought further verification, confirming their suspicion of fraud. Nevertheless, this incident illustrates the need for heightened vigilance.
Review Your Legal Malpractice Insurance Coverage
Now is the time to review your legal malpractice insurance coverage.
In particular, you’ll want to confirm that your policy includes cyber liability insurance coverage for Florida lawyers. In the current climate, cyber coverage is indispensable, and the time to act on it is now.
Florida Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company (FLMIC) is Florida’s only direct-write provider of Lawyers’ Professional Liability (LPL) insurance. Our company was created for Florida Lawyers and by Florida Lawyers. We’re here for you.
- Review your current coverage. Make sure you understand it. Determine whether it still meets your needs.
- If you don’t have legal malpractice coverage, get it right away. Remember: LPL policies are claims made policies, meaning it isn’t too late to get coverage now.
- If you have questions, call our underwriters and talk to them directly.
- We do offer cyber liability insurance coverage for Florida lawyers.
- Visit flmic.com and submit an application to get started.