June 06, 2011

Technology Resolutions for 2011

Joshua Poje

Although technology has become essential to the daily practice of law, it can be difficult for attorneys to step back and objectively consider where technology is helping them and where it may be hurting them.  The New Year provides an excellent opportunity to look at your technology with a fresh eye, identifying areas where an adjustment may help make your practice more secure and efficient.

Here are a few simple steps you should take in reviewing your current technology:

Reflect on 2010.  Technology was surely a part of your practice in 2010, so take some time to reflect on what worked and what didn't over the past year.  Was there software that plagued you with frequent crashes or missing features?  Do you have devices, like scanners, that are showing their age?  These problems may seem like minor nuisances in the course of your daily routine, but minor annoyances can quickly add up to lost time and increased stress.

Besides an audit of your problem areas, it's also important to identify software that you may not be using to the fullest possible extent.  Software can be expensive, and making the best use of as many features as possible will help you obtain the best return on your investment.  Look for training online or in person to help you use the technology you have more effectively.

Secure your passwords.  As overall security for technology has improved, users’ first line of defense—using secure passwords—have quickly become the weakest link.  This is primarily due to users selecting passwords that are too simple and easily guessable.  For example, when hackers obtained (and published) user passwords from the Gawker Media network of blogs earlier this year, the most popular password was "123456" followed in popularity by the word "password."  To make matters worse, many users rely on the same simple password for multiple sites and services, meaning that a security breach on a single site could hand hackers access to many or all of the sites you frequent.

To protect yourself, avoid dictionary words and obvious choices such as birthdates and names of family.  Use passwords that are eight or more characters long and include a mixture of lower case and upper case letters, numbers and symbols.  Be sure to use different passwords for different online services, particularly the most sensitive ones such as bank accounts and e-mail.  If managing many different passwords seems impossible, consider using a password management tool like LastPass, 1Password, KeePass or RoboForm.

Review and test your backup strategy.  In an era when some of our most valuable files exist entirely in digital format, a good backup strategy is imperative.  Take the time to carefully review your current strategy.  A good backup strategy should provide redundancy.  Relying on a single backup source, like an external hard drive, isn't sufficient enough protection for your vital data.

You should also pursue geographic redundancy.  In the event that your office is destroyed by fire or flood, or falls victim to theft, your backup will be useless if it's located near your computer.  To ensure geographic redundancy, many attorneys have turned to online backup sources that store data on vendor servers hundreds or thousands of miles away.  If you're uncomfortable storing data in "the cloud," a simpler option would be to store a regularly updated backup offsite in a safe deposit box or other secure location.

Finally, don't simply assume that your backup strategy will work—test it.  Running through a full restoration from your backup files will help you learn the process and identify any weaknesses in your strategy.  Remember, a backup strategy is about more than just protecting your data—it's about business continuity.  If the worst happens, you need to be able to get your practice back on its feet as quickly as possible.

Update your software.  Software developers frequently release updates and patches for their software, designed to correct bugs, fill security holes and improve features.  Go through all of the software you use routinely and make sure they are fully up-to-date.  Some software includes automatic update features, but in other cases you may have to visit the developer's website and browse through the support section to find any updates you may have missed.

For older software, consider going a step further and upgrading to a newer version.  This is particularly important if the developer has ceased support for the software, as any security flaws that surface will go unfixed.  Updating or upgrading your software will keep your technology running smooth and secure.

This article first appeared in YourABA e-newsletter, a monthly publication distributed via email to all ABA members.  Learn more about the benefits of belonging to the American Bar Association.

Joshua Poje