Law firm’s ‘serious’ cyber breach a warning to others
Yesterday’s ransomware attack on DLA Piper has highlighted the importance of cyber security for law firms.
On Tuesday night DLA Piper, as well as many other businesses around the world, was affected by a ransomware attack similar to the ‘WannaCry’ attack that took place in May. This is the first time, to Lawyers Weekly’s knowledge, that a major cyber attack has affected a global law firm with a prominent presence in Australia.
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The firm notified staff of the attack by text message overnight. They were told to come in to work but avoid switching on their computers.
A statement on DLA Piper’s website read: “We are currently dealing with a serious global cyber incident. We have taken down our systems as a precautionary measure which will mean you are currently unable to contact us by email or landline. Our people continue to be available on their usual mobile/cell phone numbers.”
The virus reportedly shows similarities with a software called ‘Petya’, and may be a variation of it.
Kit Lloyd, a consultant at MinterEllison specialising in cyber security, told Lawyers Weekly this latest attack exploited a known weakness in Microsoft’s software.
“This isn’t a zero-day exploit [a software vulnerability unknown to the vendor],” Mr Lloyd said.
“This was a vulnerability that was patched at least back in March by Microsoft. These attacks will increase in their severity as long as people delay patching their systems.
“That’s the key takeaway: the longer you take to patch a system, the higher the vulnerability.”
Law firms have been on notice for some time that they are at high risk of cyber attacks because of the privileged nature of the client information they hold.
Dave Coughanour, director of security and information management at K&L Gates, told Lawyers Weekly in March that law firms are playing catch-up with companies in other industries in terms of cyber security.
“We’re seeing many other sectors becoming just much faster fish,” he said.
“It’s harder to hack into a bank, it’s harder to hack into a defence contractor or critical infrastructure company, so hackers are shifting their focus to what they perceive to be the weaker link in the chain, which is why law firms need to ensure their cyber security systems are keeping up with other industries.
“The trend, which really started in March of last year and has been happening off and on since, has been the targeting of merger and acquisition data held at law firms. That’s information that is very easy to monetise, it can be quite lucrative, and I see that trend continuing for firms that are heavily known for M&A work.”
Mr Lloyd said that despite the virus that affected DLA Piper being widely referred to as ransomware, its primary objective did not appear to be financial gain.
“This is disguised as a ransomware attack, and I say that because if you look at it, the virus actually throws up an email address and it uses the same bitcoin address for its demands, and true ransomware never does that,” he said.
“They’re exploiting a known vulnerability but they’re making the attack look like it was ransomware when really that doesn’t appear to be the purpose of it.”
McAfee chief scientist Raj Samani voiced a similar sentiment in technology publication TechCrunch. He also noted that with the rising public awareness of ransomware attacks, victims are becoming less likely to pay up.
“Was it ransomware?” he said.
“Well, in name, but it was destructive in nature. In this particular case, you have what is being publicised as a ransomware campaign … actually encrypting the master boot record.”
Mr Lloyd said the main objective of the attack may have been for hackers to test the water and see how vulnerable businesses are.
“It sort of looks like they’re probing,” he said.
“Obviously it’s increased in severity from the WannaCry attack, so if I was a betting man I’d say that there will probably be another attack of increasing severity.
“I’d expect more attacks and unless people reduce their patching window, they’ll be vulnerable.”
Mr Lloyd spoke on The Lawyers Weekly Show recently about the results of MinterEllison’s Perspectives on Cyber Risk 2017 report, which found that Australian companies in general are not doing enough to protect themselves from cyber attacks.