The scope of the threats to law firm data is global. In this panel discussion at the 5th Annual Law Firm CFO/CIO/COO Forum: Data Privacy, Security & the Globalized Law Firm, a country-by-country breakdown of dangers were discussed while the audience absorbed the magnitude of the panelists’ concerns.

Eben Kaplan, senior consultant, Control Risks; Josh Goldfarb, CTO, FireEye; Jay Healey, senior research scholar, Columbia University; Robert Knake, senior fellow for Cyber Privacy, Council on Foreign Relations; and Daniel Sutherland, associate general counsel, Homeland Security, demonstrated that each entity had various motives and techniques for cyber-attacks.

Who, Why, and How?

Who: China – They have a defined plan with tactics and procedures.
Why: They are primarily seeking intellectual property with a new focus on firms that retain such information, especially those with newer IP clients (Target: Silicon Valley – DC based firms).
How: They focus on social engineering:

  • Text messages, spear fishing.
  • Looking for the weakest link at the firm – someone who will click a link or answer a call and give out passwords.
  • Watering hole attack – In this tactic, China compromises a trusted third party site so the primary target would not suspect it and then in turn it becomes infected. Example: A famous Think Tank’s website is compromised, someone from a big law firm goes to the site and gets infected, and alas – the target was the big law firm and they got infected indirectly.

Who: Russia – They are one of the most experienced countries at hacking.
Why: Money, but increasingly they are focused on IP, so law firms should be aware of this. They are quieter and more careful than China.
How: They are using more BotNets, worms and malware than China.

One interesting concern expressed on the panel is that Russia is very worrisome for the United States at the moment. The rule of thumb was that countries which could hurt the US years ago did not because they did not have a desire to do so. On the other side, those who wished to do harm did not have the bandwidth. This has changed. Putin is leading Russia down the road of an attack on the US, and they have the skills and bandwidth to do significant harm.

Who: North Korea – They are still new in this arena but improving quickly.
Why: Political.
How: Uniquely, North Korea is buying its capability to attack from the Dark Web, or hackers for hire. They used black hat hackers to launch the Sony attack and it was very successful. They are brazen in their approach but until recently have not been as interested in law firms.

Who: Iran – They too are improving quickly.
Why: Political.
How: They have started leveraging worms that were used on them by other countries like Israel.

The Saudi Aramco Wiper Worm was a virus/worm supposedly created by Israel and launched on the Saudi company’s network. It reportedly wiped clean 75 percent of the world’s most profitable company’s computers and left only an image of a burning American Flag. Iran may have adapted the worm from something that had been launched on them years before by Israel.

The thrust of the panel discussion was that the threats to law firms are far and wide. While some nation states have not traditionally sought out law firms, there is keen interest in IP and M&A information. In closing, Goldfarb mentioned some startling statistics. While they were installing hardware on the FireEye customer networks, many of which were law firms, they found of 1,216 customers tested that 97 percent of them were compromised. Even more fascinating was that 25 percent of those compromised networks were by other nation states. This underscored the importance of understanding who is knocking at your firewall and what they are seeking.

Previous coverage from the 5th Annual Law Firm CFO/CIO/COO Forum: Data Privacy, Security & the Globalized Law Firm:
Enemies at the ate: Responses to data security threats at law firms
The 5th annual Law Firm CFO/CIO/COO Forum: Data privacy, security and the globalized law firm