More than half of data breaches at UK legal firms were caused by insiders

More than half of data breaches at UK legal firms were caused by insiders

Insider data breaches continue to pose a serious threat to the UK legal sector, according to NetDocuments.

Based on analysis of the latest data from the Information Commissioner’s Office covering Q3 2022 – Q2 2023, more than half (60%) of identified data breaches in the UK legal sector were caused by insiders. By comparison, 40% of data breaches came from outside threats, such as external malicious actors.

The findings show that, combined, data from legal firms relating to 4.2 million people was compromised – amounting to 6% of the UK population. Almost half of the cases (49%) impacted customers and 13% impacted employees. Basic personal information (49%), economic and financial data (13%), health data (10%), and official documents (10%) were the main types of data breached in the legal sector.

“Law firms and legal institutions handle vast amounts of sensitive and confidential information, which puts them at increased risk of cyberattacks,” said David Hansen, VP, Compliance at NetDocuments. “But it’s not just external threats like ransomware that law firms need to watch out for. Law firms must be vigilant to insider data breaches – whether intentional or accidental. This requires robust cybersecurity measures to govern access to documents, without hampering staff productivity.”

The analysis of the ICO data highlights the common causes of data breaches in the legal sector:

  • 37% occurred from sharing data with the wrong person (i.e., via email, post, or verbally)
  • 27% occurred from phishing and ransomware attacks
  • 12% occurred from losing data (i.e. loss/theft of a device containing personal data, or of paperwork or data left in an insecure location)
  • 39% occurred from human error (i.e. verbal disclosure; failure to redact or use bcc; alteration of data; hardware misconfiguration; documents emailed or posted to the wrong recipient)
  • The findings underline the need for law firms to prioritise addressing threats from within, ensuring that only people with authorisation have access to certain documents and files

“For law firms, guarding against insider threats is not just a matter of protecting data; it’s a commitment to safeguarding client and employee confidentiality,” Hansen continued. “Data Loss Prevention must be an essential part of cybersecurity strategies. Taking this proactive approach can help law firms fortify their defences and prevent exfiltration and the unauthorised or inappropriate use of data.”

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