BALTIMORE, Md. — “Three strikes and you are out of the firm.” This is the mantra of one law firm when dealing with employees who click on spear-phishing emails, according to Mounil Patel, Strategic Technology Consultant at Mimecast, an email and cloud security firm.
Patel’s comments came at the recent gathering of legal tech and cybersecurity officials, the LegalSEC Summit, presented last week by the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) in Baltimore.
Simply stated, email is currently the largest hole in law firm and corporate security. Most other aspects of the firm have been shored up over the last several years, including firewall and antivirus protection, malware defenses, and monitoring of networks. However, as Patel pointed out, a law firm can have every monitoring and protection application in place, but email’s reliance on the human decision factor creates major headaches for the firm’s IT staff.
To illustrate, Patel described one incident where he received an email from someone with whom he had worked years ago at a previous company. The email was directed to him and clearly appeared to be from his old colleague’s email address. The cordial note brought up some of their old connections at the previous company and then asked if he would kindly review the attached resume to see if there might be a fit for him at his new company. Patel naturally opened the PDF and the virus payload was released. The point is, with today’s more sophisticated email attacks, there is almost no way for people to know what are genuine correspondences from friends or colleagues and what is a “virus bomb”.
- Be suspicious of everything that comes into your inbox especially from the outside;
- .EXEs and .ZIPs files should always be blocked or deleted;
- PDFs can be difficult — be sure to run the latest patches from Adobe (creator of PDFs);
- Be aware of where links and URLs are taking you;
- Law firm or company IT departments should send weekly notes to remind people to be cautious; and
- For finance, use internal non-email based systems for wire transfers and notifications.
It is interesting to note that many law firms and corporations are internally testing their own employees with such targeted spear-phishing attacks similar to the one Patel received. A client of Patel’s ran one such email security campaign and when an attorney was caught opening the attached files or following the links, that person immediately received a pre-recorded message via voicemail from the entire executive partnership that such behavior was unacceptable.
The message went on to state if they were caught twice more they would be terminated — three strikes and they were out.
One best practice noted by one chief information officer at the Summit was that before you start your phishing campaign, let the firm know you are conducting this. She found that attorneys began sending IT suspicious emails proactively. In addition, reaffirm those who do not click the phishing emails, by not noting that they are doing good work.
Email will continue to dog corporations and law firms for the foreseeable future. Ultimately it comes down to humans making decision on what to open and click on. At this point in time, a well-crafted targeted email attack appeals to most people, unfortunately. (In fact, the likelihood of an executive clicking on one of these attacks is at a stunning 96%, according to McAfee.)
So, heeding some of Patel’s advice could save your organization the pains of another attack launched via email.