United States: How To Prevent Data Theft From Lost Devices

Technology can be a blessing and a curse for attorneys. While technology enables attorneys to be able to conduct business on the go, it also puts client and firm data at risk. In the United States, someone loses a cellphone every 3.5 seconds. More than 3 million cellphones are stolen every year. More than 12,000 laptops are lost in airports each week. Other portable electronic devices, ranging from BlackBerrys to iPads to many others are lost just as frequently Almost every attorney's portable electronic device includes some confidential client information.

Most attorneys today conduct business in roaming offices, traveling with huge amounts of client information with them via portable electronic devices. When those devices are lost or stolen, it is tantamount to leaving the doors of the law office unlocked or welcoming a thief to break in. The attorney's and clients' information is readily available for the taking.

California attorneys also have duties to clients that are impacted by technology. Per California State Bar Formal Opinion No. 2010¬179, attorneys are supposed to consider several factors when accessing or transmitting confidential client data over a wireless or personal network that is not subject to high levels of security: (1) the level of security attendant to the use of that technology, including whether reasonable precautions may be taken when using the technology to increase the level of security; (2) the legal ramifications to a third party who intercepts, accesses or exceeds authorized use of the electronic information; (3) the degree of sensitivity of the information; (4) the possible impact on the client of an inadvertent disclosure of privileged or confidential information or work product; (5) the urgency of the situation; and (6) the client's instructions and circumstances, such as access by others to the client's devices and communications.

The greatest cyber risk to an attorney or law practice today is not an overseas cyber¬terrorist hacking into the law firm's database and accessing confidential data. Instead, the most significant and most likely risk for the average law practice is that an attorney or employee with law firm data on their laptop, tablet or smartphone leaves it at the gym or in the airport.

Fear not, this cyber risk is also one of the easiest risks to address.

No one needs to convince attorneys of the importance of cybersecurity. From identity theft to a data security breach at the law practice, attorneys understand that the risk is real and needs to be addressed. The question is not whether to take action, but how.

One problem is that most people just throw money at technology problems. This option includes hiring consultants who take full advantage of the information gap between what most attorneys know and what most attorneys actually need to know. High¬priced lingo often translates into complicated systems that may or may not offer benefit.

Four simple steps can effectively address the most common threats. While these steps are no substitute for professional advice, these steps do address the cyber risks that often worry attorneys the most.

Step One: Password¬ protect devices

All law firm personnel should be required to use passcode¬ or password¬protected portable electronic devices—no exceptions. A better option is to require two¬step authentication to log into law firm systems.

Even something as simple as an unlisted phone number in the wrong hands (especially in domestic relations or criminal defense practices) is a breach of the duty to maintain confidences. This breach can result in serious consequences for both the attorney and the client.

In practice, this protocol has two implications. First, every portable electronic device must be capable of having a password or passcode. The cost of upgrading existing equipment for firm personnel pales in comparison to the risks of unprotected portable electronic equipment.

Second, require that this password or passcode feature be activated on every device, from phones to computers. Inevitably, it is the one laptop without password protection that is stolen or lost.

Step Two: Activate location and remote¬ erase options

A feature that exists on most new devices is the ability to locate the device if lost or stolen and, if desired, to remotely erase all content on the device. Both features should be activated to minimize risk to the firm.

Step Three: Apply protocols to portable storage devices

There are additional protocols for attorneys and law firm personnel who use transportable data via thumb drives, disks, memory sticks and other data devices. Documents, files and other sensitive information are routinely downloaded onto one of these devices.

More than 4,500 flash drives are left at dry cleaners in a year, with thousands more left in taxicabs. Worse yet, memory sticks transported by attorneys or law firm personnel typically contain some of the most sensitive client data, not to mention the metadata that is also hidden with the documents.

While enforcing a password or passcode requirement for portable electronic devices is possible (although still an undertaking), policing password or passcode requirements for portable storage devices can be even more challenging. The best place to begin is in the downloading process.

Protocols requiring any information downloaded from a firm's systems to a portable storage device to be password¬protected should require confirmation at the time the information is downloaded. After that, it is too late to police.

Step Four: Address Wi¬-Fi risks

There are almost 5 million hot spots around the world where Internet users can access data. Retail establishments like Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts provide Wi-Fi access. Most hotels and airlines now also provide access. Even law firms often provide Wi-Fi access to employees and guests.

Free, publicly accessible Wi-Fi services are rarely secure. The biggest threat for attorneys using free Wi-Fi security is the ability for someone else to hijack a signal—positioning the third party between the attorney and the connection point. Instead of talking directly with the hot spot, the attorney is sending information to the third party.

The third party has access to every piece of information that an attorney sends out on the Internet, including client information, important emails, credit card information, and even security credentials to the law firm's business network.

Once someone has all of that information, including security credentials, they have the potential to access the law firm's systems at any time. There is also the risk of computer vandalism through malware aimed at disrupting and/or damaging an attorney's computer systems.

One option is to avoid unsecured Wi-Fi hot spots. However, such a step is unnecessary and unduly restricts the utility of portable devices. An equally effective step is encryption of data. Through software, attorneys and law firm personnel can make sure that all data transmitted over a public network is encrypted.

Another step is to use a VPN (virtual private network) for communicating confidential information. Assuming the law practice's network is encrypted, the VPN effectively imports the encryption into all communications. In effect, a VPN, even when used over a public network, operates as if the attorney is the office using the office computer. Security protocols at the office are then imported wherever the attorney may be online accessing law firm information.

One easy solution is to keep the Wi-Fi turned off when the attorney is not using it. When the Wi-Fi is on, it is possible for it to connect to a network without the attorney even knowing it. It is an unnecessary risk, albeit remote.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Events from this Firm
26 Sep 2018, Conference, New York, United States

Dentons is delighted to support a global IT services and consulting firm Miratech as an event host partner at their annual conference called M-Force18 New York on September 27th. The event will be held at Dentons New York office in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, opposite Rockefeller Center.

2 Oct 2018, Seminar, Dallas, United States

We are pleased to offer a program of five sessions designed specifically for in-house counsel. Topics will include:

  • In-house corporate ethical issues
  • What recent Supreme Court decisions mean for business
  • Keeping lawyers out of your benefit plans
  • Litigation tactics for in-house counsel
  • Employment issues in the age of #MeToo
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions