Data privacy is a priority for any kind of organisation. In the current world of business, governance and compliance requirements are getting more and more stringent. With the introduction of comprehensive regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), it has become all the more challenging for organisations to remain compliant and ensure data privacy and security.
Law firms, in particular, deal with a large amount of sensitive data. Clients trust law practices with their information. For this same reason, law firms are also a prime target for cybercriminals. So data privacy in law firms is not only a matter of compliance but also a matter of reputation and goodwill.
Ensuring and maximising privacy controls in law firms is imperative to building trust and loyalty among clients. With the focus shifting to a hybrid workplace, an already challenging task of ensuring compliance has become far more difficult. It has brought about a need for more controls and protocols. It also demands the capability to identify possible weak links that were non-existent in the traditional office setting. Inability to identify threats or ensure compliance can only cause your law firm to compromise sensitive client information but also be subject to heavy penalties under the GDPR.
So, how does the hybrid work model impact your data privacy measures, and what can you do to maximise privacy controls?
What are the data security risks for a law firm in the hybrid work model?
During the Covid-19 pandemic, it was because of the internet that most organisations could switch to a remote work model. But this shift meant all our interactions were now happening online and this is where the biggest threat of cybercrime looms. The more data we share online, the greater the threat.
Many industries are planning to adopt a hybrid work model where they will still be doing a major share of their work remotely. In such a case, keeping all the data and communications secure is a huge challenge. Some of the common risks posed by this hybrid work environment for law firm data privacy are listed below:
The biggest risk in the case of a hybrid work policy is the risk of compromised conversations and communications. This includes communication with your clients, co-workers, or any other stakeholders. Since most of your conversations in a hybrid workplace would be over email or chat tools, the chances of falling prey to phishing or compromised user accounts are very high. Since it is highly likely that you will be sharing sensitive information in these communications often, as your work demands, compromised communication could pose a huge threat.
A hybrid work model will also require your law firm to store most of its documents and data in the cloud. This makes the data easily accessible to everyone involved, irrespective of location. But it also puts your data at risk of ransomware attacks. If cyber threat actors can breach your security, they could gain control over your data and encrypt your files, so you lose access to your own data.
Some threat actors work only to ruin a firm’s reputation. So unlike ransomware attacks, there can be other cybercriminals who could leak your client data and personal information to public platforms. This is a serious breach of privacy and could result in heavy penalties for your firm too. That is over and above the loss of trust and reputation that you could face.
These are only a few instances. Cybercriminals are constantly working to find new ways to create trouble, and you can never be careful enough. So adopting the best practices in data privacy, especially in a hybrid work setting, is the need of the hour. From using legal tech that takes data security seriously to privacy controls in the way your employees handle data, there is a lot you can do.
Best practices for maximising data privacy in a hybrid work model for your law firm
Use a VPN
In any remote work setting, the first recommended security protocol is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN can be considered the first line of defence when you are working from home or any other location. The VPN masks the user’s IP address and encrypts your conversations. So anyone outside the network cannot view your conversations. As a data privacy measure, each of your team members working in-office or remotely should be on a VPN.
Install a firewall
A firewall can be the next line of defence for your law firm’s data. Insist on everyone having to install a firewall on their systems. The firewall can monitor incoming and outgoing traffic for your network and block certain traffic based on your security guidelines.
The next simplest cybersecurity measure for any remote work setting is using multi-factor authentication. Whether anyone is logging into the organisation’s employee portal, client portal, or any other system, multi-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security. This could be a user Id and password along with a one-time password (OTP) sent to their email or phone. It could also be a code generator app – such as Google Authenticator – or security questions. Or you could send an authentication link to their email after they have entered their password to verify their identity.
There are many ways multi-factor authentication can be implemented. You just need to choose what works best for your law firm.
Access control is essential, particularly for bigger law firms that have maybe more than 50 employees. Limiting access to sensitive information on your system only to people who must have access can prevent serious threats to data privacy. Consider granting permission only to those members of your team who need to know. Conducting regular reviews of who has access to what will help ensure that only necessary people are able to view sensitive information.
Train your employees
All of these best practices will only yield results if your employees are aware and informed. You cannot monitor what your employees do round the clock, but you can always try and make them more responsible in the way they handle critical data. Train employees in best practices for data privacy as it is increasingly important in the hybrid work model. Employees must be made aware of their role in ensuring data privacy as well as the consequences of non-compliance.
People in the legal profession have been working all through the pandemic, and are probably already familiar with the kind of threats that remote and hybrid work can pose. As these work cultures become the norm, you have to prepare yourself for newer risks and equip yourself to handle them effectively. By staying informed and implementing these data privacy best practices, a major chunk of the job is taken care of. As lawyers, your reputation and client’s trust are your biggest assets, so make sure that you retain them in all circumstances.
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