Cybercrime represents the single biggest threat to the legal sector, a major new study has revealed.

The finding forms part of the University of Portsmouth’s Centre for Counter Fraud Studies research into risks faced by law firms in 2019.

Although all kinds of law firms are vulnerable to attacks, the study reveals that the largest of firms are most at risk.

In fact, 100 per cent of firms studied with a turnover of between £1 million and £10 million were found to be “wide open” to having their domains “spoofed” – the act of disguising a communication or platform from an unknown source as being from a known, trusted source.

Spoofed communications are used to send spam, for phishing attempts or sending otherwise fraudulent emails either internally or externally.

The risk of spoofing decreases slightly to nine in 10 law firms (90 per cent) when including the smallest firms, the study adds.

According to the report, larger law firms are particularly prone to hackers taking over their digital identity to commit cybercrimes because cybersecurity is not prioritised by upper management. The research found several instances where law firms had “failed to update servers”, were using redundant security tools and had allowed antivirus software to expire.

The research also found that eight of the 200 law firms reviewed were using digital services “known to be vulnerable to hackers”.

Commenting on the report, the authors said cybersecurity represented “a significant threat to business continuity and domain ownership”.

“It is clear that there is an epidemic of fraud and cybercrime in the UK, and this research proves that law firms are, perhaps surprisingly, still seriously exposed,” they said. “For an industry that is so closely associated with diligence and detail, the results are likely to come as a shock.”

The report added: “Firms would do well to review their resilience. Cyber-criminals need only a sliver of vulnerability to fraudulently gain access to valuable and sensitive data; are the UK’s law firms leaving the door open?”

The study comes after the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) revealed that nearly a third of all law firms had been targeted by scammers in 2018.

For help and advice with any issues regarding cyberattacks, please get in touch with our expert team.

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About our Legal team
With Mark Sharpley, executive committee member of the UK200 Legal Group, and fellow partners Jeremy Allison and Nicki Shipley at the helm of an experienced team of legal finance specialists, the Smailes Goldie Group is well positioned to offer tax and accounting advice to solicitors. Whether you are a sole practitioner or a multi-partner firm, the Smailes Goldie group has the expertise and understanding of all financial matters relating to the legal profession, including: compliance services, Solicitors’ Accounts Rule audits, preparing annual accounts, tax advice for both firms and/or partners, and advising on LLP status. For more information on any of the issues covered in this bulletin, please contact Mark Sharpley at marksharpley@smailesgoldie.co.uk.

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