CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Experts warn lawyers of cyber risks to remote work

March 29, 2020

Amid the U.S. response to the COVID-19 outbreak, experts warn law firms to protect themselves from all viruses — cyber and real — when pivoting to a completely remote workforce and eventually back to an office setting. 

Experts say once a decision has been made to send workers home, firms should first perform a cybersecurity risk assessment.

Experts say once a decision has been made to send workers home, firms should first perform a cybersecurity risk assessment.

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“Cybersecurity is a moving target,” said Ruth Hill Bro, co-chair of the ABA Cybersecurity Legal Task Force and moderator of the ABA webinar “Remote Working in a Time of COVID-19: Cybersecurity Issues You Need to Know.” Law firms are attractive targets and the risk of cyber breaches multiplies as more employees work remotely.

The outbreak also is creating opportunities for hackers and scammers. “There are thousands of COVID-19 scam and malware sites being created daily,” Bro said. Once the decision has been made to send workers home, firms should first perform a risk assessment. All work should be done on secure servers, using multifactor authentication to gain access to information.

“The most important goal for a law firm is protecting their data, whether working in the office or remotely,” said panelist Jill Rhodes, vice president and chief information officer for Option Care Health. Firm leaders must decide whether employees will use a company device or a personal device, and how their networks will be secured. Rhodes suggests following the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s cybersecurity framework.

Panelist Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert, outlined steps to take once workers can return to the office, including cleaning all surfaces thoroughly. “It’s a very easy virus to clean, just soap and water is enough to clean it off of surfaces, but it can last on surfaces for a prolonged period of time.”

In general, employees may need more flexible work arrangements when working from home. Collaboration tools can help keep communication flowing, which is an important element for remote workers to feel connected. “We are using Microsoft Teams, which is cloud-based, which seems to be working very well,” Rhodes said.

While no one knows how long the COVID-19 threat will last and how long working remotely will be necessary, current estimates are calling for social distancing through summer and for up to 18 months, Marty said.

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