In the dynamic landscape of the legal sector, where confidentiality is paramount, the rise of phishing, smishing and vishing attacks poses a significant threat. Phishing, smishing and vishing are common techniques employed to trick individuals into revealing confidential information, often relying on social engineering to exploit human psychology and trust. It’s essential for individuals and organisations to be aware of these threats and implement security measures to mitigate the risks associated with them.

This whitepaper delves into the nuances of these cyber threats, explores their potential impact on law firms, and outlines best practices to fortify defences and raise awareness.

Section 1: Understanding the Threats

1.1 Phishing attacks
Phishing often begins with the victim receiving an email or message that appears to
be from a legitimate and familiar source. This source could be a bank, social media
platform, government agency, or even a colleague.

For example:
Dear Paul
Can you please upload the bank statements for the last 12 months to the link data
room urgently as we need to rectify the income shown in the financial statement in the
current financial year.
Data Rooms admin 2023

Due to the urgency of the situation, Paul, feeling under pressure, would want to get this over to them as soon as possible. However, once the link has been clicked, credentials are compromised, which can have far reaching consequences for the entire organisation.

The primary risk of compromised credentials is unauthorised access to sensitive accounts and systems. Attackers can use stolen usernames and passwords to gain entry to email accounts, financial platforms, corporate networks, and other secure systems.

Once inside, attackers may explore, exfiltrate, or manipulate sensitive data. This can lead to data breaches, where confidential information such as client records, financial data, intellectual property, or personal details are exposed. Compromised credentials can enable unauthorised transactions, fund transfers, or access to payment information, leading to direct financial losses for both individuals and organisations.

Attackers may use the information to impersonate the victim, apply for credit in their name, or engage in other fraudulent activities that can have long-lasting financial and personal consequences. They can also be used to send malicious emails or posts from the victim’s accounts, damaging their personal or professional reputation. In a corporate context, this can harm the reputation of the organisation immensely.

Business Email Compromise (BEC): In a business context, compromised credentials can lead to Business Email Compromise. Attackers with access to a corporate email account can impersonate executives or employees to initiate fraudulent transactions, redirect funds, or trick employees into divulging sensitive information.

Ransomware Attacks: Stolen credentials may provide attackers with the access needed to deploy ransomware on a victim’s systems. This malicious software encrypts files, and the attackers demand payment (usually in cryptocurrency) for the decryption key.

Intellectual Property Theft: For organisations, compromised credentials can result in the theft of intellectual property, trade secrets, or proprietary information. This can have significant implications for a company’s competitiveness and market position.

Regulatory Consequences: Depending on the nature of the compromised data,
individuals and organisations may face regulatory consequences and legal liabilities. Failure to protect sensitive information in compliance with data protection regulations
can lead to fines and legal actions.

Operational Disruption: Remediation efforts, such as restoring compromised systems, investigating the incident, and implementing enhanced security measures, can lead to operational disruptions and associated costs for organisations.

1.2 Smishing Attacks
Smishing involves phishing attacks conducted through text messages. Partners and associates at a prestigious law firm receive seemingly urgent text messages on their personal and work mobile phones. The messages claim to be from a known legal association, alerting recipients about an upcoming seminar on a critical legal topic.

Example: Dear [Lawyer’s Name], 

Greetings from [Fictional Legal Association]! 

You are invited to an exclusive legal seminar on [Critical Legal Topic]. This is a rare opportunity to gain insights from renowned legal experts. Your presence is crucial for staying ahead in your field. 

**Seminar Details:** 

Date: [Fake Date] 

Time: [Fake Time] 

Venue: [Fake Venue] 

**Confirm your attendance by clicking the link below:** 

[Malicious Link] 

**Note: Limited Seats Available. Secure Your Spot Now!** 

Best regards, 

[Legitimate-Sounding Name] 

[Legitimate-Sounding Title] 

[Fictional Legal Association] 

The message contains numerous touchpoints that recipients need to be aware of.

Importance and urgency: the message creates a sense of urgency, emphasising the importance of attending the seminar for professional growth.

Familiarity: The use of a fictional legal association that sounds legitimate adds an element of trust, increasing the likelihood of engagement.

Call to Action: The message includes a link for registration, encouraging recipients to click without verifying the authenticity of the message.

Link Destination: The malicious link leads to a fake registration page that closely mimics the legitimate legal association’s website. It prompts users to enter their credentials (username and password) to confirm their attendance.

Lawyers and staff members who click the link and enter their credentials unknowingly provide the attackers with access to their accounts. Attackers then gain unauthorised access to the law firm’s internal network, including email accounts, client information, and privileged communications. Business Email Compromise (BEC) allows attackers to impersonate lawyers and manipulate ongoing legal transactions as well as process unauthorised transactions and redirect funds from legal transactions to the attacker’s accounts.

1.3 Vishing Attacks

Attackers use phone calls as part of a social engineering technique known as vishing (voice phishing) to manipulate legal professionals and extract sensitive information or gain unauthorised access to systems. Below is a holistic explanation of how attackers employ vishing against legal professionals.

Impersonation: attackers often impersonate individuals or entities that legal professionals are likely to trust, such as representatives from legal associations, regulatory bodies, or even colleagues within the legal community. They might also pose as IT support personnel or representatives from trusted organisations.

Urgency: vishing calls typically involve the creation of urgent scenarios to induce panic or fear. For example, attackers might claim there is a security issue with the legal professional’s accounts, a pending legal matter, or a regulatory compliance concern that requires immediate attention.

Information gathering: to enhance the credibility of their calls, attackers often gather information about the target through open-source intelligence or previous data breaches. They may reference specific details about the legal professional, the firm’s recent activities, or ongoing cases to make the call seem legitimate.

Attackers aim to extract sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, or account details. They might claim they need this information for verification purposes or to resolve an urgent issue. Legal professionals, under the pressure of the created urgency, may inadvertently disclose these details.

Manipulation: In some vishing attacks, attackers might convince legal professionals to download and install malicious software under the guise of a necessary security update. This allows attackers to gain remote access to the professional’s device and potentially the law firm’s network.

Exploiting trust: Legal professionals often deal with confidential and time-sensitive matters, and attackers exploit this trust relationship. By impersonating someone trusted or creating a scenario that demands immediate action, attackers attempt to bypass normal security measures.

Initiating fraudulent transactions: Armed with information gathered during the call, attackers may impersonate a high-ranking official within the law firm to initiate fraudulent transactions, change payment details, or divert funds.

Establishing credibility: Attackers may use insider information obtained through the call to establish credibility in subsequent communications. This can make it more challenging for the victim to discern the fraudulent nature of the calls.

In order to defend against vishing attacks, organisations must be sceptical of unexpected calls, especially those creating a sense of urgency. Verify the identity of the caller independently using contact information from official sources; avoid disclosing sensitive information over the phone; implement and enforce robust security awareness training programs within the law firm to educate staff about social engineering tactics; establish clear communication protocols for handling sensitive information over the phone.

Section 2: Best Practices for Defence

2.1 Employee Training and Awareness

Emphasise the importance of ongoing cybersecurity training for all staff, providing examples of phishing simulation exercises tailored to legal scenarios.

2.2 Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

Advocate for the adoption of MFA across all systems. Discuss the added layer of security it provides against unauthorised access.

2.3 Robust Email Filtering

Recommend the use of advanced email filtering solutions. Highlight the role of AI in detecting and blocking phishing attempts.

2.4 Mobile Device Security

Stress the need for comprehensive security measures on mobile devices. Provide tips for securing smartphones and tablets used in legal practice.

2.5 Incident Response Planning

Guide law firms in creating an effective incident response plan. Highlight the importance of a swift and coordinated response to minimise damage.

Being prepared to survive

Look at it this way, you have a beautiful cruise liner with all the amenities – a cinema, entertainment hall and swimming pool – but when it hits an iceberg, the most valuable tool for survival is a lifeboat. But a lifeboat is only effective if it is maintained and regular evacuation drills are performed.

In today’s ever-changing digital landscape, the path to cyber resilience is not just about reaching the summit, but ensuring the entire journey is secure and robust.

Let us assist you on that journey.