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3 Major Security Threats to Your Law Practice (And Your Life)

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on October 06, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Sure, a legal career isn't exactly as treacherous as a job as a mountaineer, deep sea diver, or garbage collector -- but that doesn't mean the legal profession isn't without its risks. Attorneys have to constantly worry about protecting client confidences, maintaining the integrity of their information, and making sure that all their I's are crossed and T's are dotted.

Technology has certainly made legal work easier in many ways, but as more and more aspects of a practice are connected, it's also opened plenty of security risks, threats that can bring down your practice and disrupt your life. Here are three all lawyers should be aware of.

1. Fake and Compromised Email

Email is the default mode of communication for most professionals today, with more than 196 billion electronic missives sent out every day. But it's not the world's most secure form of communication. Email accounts can be hacked, allowing access to sensitive information, and even the more sophisticated of us can be "phished," falling victim to fake emails that purport to be from a legitimate source in order to get us to divulge valuable information.

In Britain, scam emails have become such a problem that some professional associations are urging their members to send all sensitive information the old fashioned way -- by Pony Express. (The post will do fine too.) And a recent case shows that lawyers can be held accountable when their emails are compromised. A District Court in Virginia recently ruled that a lawyer whose settlement was transferred to scammers only had himself to blame, since he hadn't disclosed his compromised email to opposing council before hackers took advantage of it.

So, if you want to protect yourself, consider email alternatives like communications portals or the U.S. Postal Service when dealing with sensitive information, and be sure to inform others when you think your email has been compromised.

2. Messy Metadata

Metadata is all that information that's included "behind the scenes" in a document -- when it was created, by whom, what changes have been made, etc. And metadata can be revealing, telling you where and when a photo was taken, for example, or what changes have been made to your draft documents.

Metadata isn't all bad, of course. It plays an important role in authenticating documents and can be helpful to both investigators and attorneys. But metadata that inadvertently discloses privileged or private information can leave you with particularly unhappy clients. Protect yourself by making sure you understand the metadata in your documents before sharing them with third parties.

3. Password Theft

Nope, we're not including hacked cars, or murderous medical devices, or compromised voting systems on this list. Instead, we're focusing on something much more mundane, but which is a much bigger threat: password theft. If you've been using the same password for all your accounts for years, it's likely that your password has been stolen in any of a myriad of hacks: the LinkedIn hack, the Dropbox hack, the Yahoo hack, etc.

These data breaches don't guarantee that anyone will use your account information against you, but they definitely up the risk. So do yourself a favor and use a password manager that can give you a unique, hard-to-break password for each of your various accounts.

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