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This week the Wall Street Journal reported that hackers had broken into the computer networks at 4 dozen leading U.S. law firms. According to the story federal investigators are now trying to identify what data was stolen and whether or not any of that data was used to front-run trades. Even though these firms were alerted in recent months, these breaches occurred last summer. The length of time from breach to discovery and disclosure may be alarming but it is not surprising.
The number of reported cyberattacks against law firms has increased steeply over the last year (15% of law firms reported breaches while 23% said they didn’t know if they had been breached - ABA Technology Survey, 2015). Cybercriminals have quickly realized the extraordinary data cache that all firms, large or small, house. In this case, the law firms named to this list represent some of the biggest banks and Fortune 500 companies in the country. They're responsible for handling everything from multi-billion dollar merger/acquisition deals to lawsuits. Concern lies with whether hackers might use this data to front-run trade in the market. While the FBI nor any of these firms have publicly disclosed breach incidents tied to this campaign it’s probable that the mass amounts of data gathered will be exploited, if it hasn’t been already.
In addition to running inquires against our own client base through Cymon, the largest open threat intelligence community (powered by eSentire Managed Detection and Response), to track malicious activity, we also ran inquiries against the 48 listed firms. Our clients weren’t affected by this campaign, however initial findings show that employee credentials and hashes from many of the listed firms are available through mass data sites (such as Pastebin) or on the dark web (accessible through the TOR Anonymizer). This data is an indicator that if nothing else, these firms are at risk for phishing campaigns and targeted attacks.
Law firms have fast become a popular target for attackers seeking a large payload. As a result, they’ve become a popular topic when it comes to regulatory reform. Unlike the finance industry, firms aren’t tethered to hardline regulatory requirements. However the ABA has issued guidelines and recommendations to its members to help firms improve their cybersecurity posture and prepare for increased cyber risk. Clients were already pressuring law firms to prove their ability to meet regulatory recommendations around cybersecurity, data protection, and incident response. This story will only increase that pressure. Law firms who wish to practice on Wall Street better brush up on the SEC and FINRA recommendations around cybersecurity if they hope to retain their financial clients. No financial institution – from the largest bank, to the smallest hedge fund – can afford an SEC black eye because their lawyers failed to secure sensitive information, like trading strategies and stock plays.
This story is a wake up call for the firms impacted by this breach; they must re-think their security strategy. When client or employee data is exfiltrated it’s not a case of whether they’ll be breached, but rather a case of when. Regardless of size, budget and resources, technology is not enough. Continuous monitoring and embedded incident response is the only way to prevent a successful targeted attack, which is inevitable when credentials are publicly posted and ripe for the taking. Attacks like this against larger firms (like those named on the list of affected firms) can cause catastrophic damage. But consider smaller firms that have very limited security measures in place. A breach like this would sink their business in one strike. And while this case targeted a hefty list of the more prestigious firms in the U.S., hackers have warned that more attacks are imminent, which puts those smaller firms directly in the crosshairs.
Mark is a cybersecurity evangelist who has spent significant time researching and speaking to peripheral factors influencing the way that legal firms integrate cybersecurity into their day-to-day operations.