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The question of paper in a cyber crime-ridden world

With no end in sight for cyber security breaches as we head into 2023, the shift to a completely paperless office needs serious consideration, writes Vincent Nair.

user iconVincent Nair 29 December 2022 Big Law
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The legal industry has a complex relationship with paper. Despite substantial advances in the world of digital, many legal professionals — young and old alike — have stood firm on their preference for flipping through documents in paper form. 

Business contracts are still regularly signed on paper first, and the idea of a fully paperless legal office simply isn’t a reality for many firms. In all my years acquiring businesses, lawyers have always given hard-copy contracts.

At the same time, recent cyber attacks have left many businesses shaking their heads and wondering when it will be their turn to fall victim. From Optus to Medibank to Uber, it appears no organisation is safe from having their digital data swiped and wiped. 

 
 

The legal industry is not immune from cyber attacks — far from it. In fact, from January to June 2022, legal service firms were one of the top five industries in Australia to report an eligible breach as part of the Australian government’s Notifiable Data Breach Scheme. Malicious or criminal attacks were the top cause of data breaches notified by the top five sectors, and the source of 77 per cent of legal, accounting and management services breaches.

With such sensitive data under their protection, it’s vital that law firms put every possible protection in place to prevent the worst from happening. Amongst this backdrop of continued, vicious cyber attacks, it’s worth posing the question: is the road to a paperless legal firm a wise one? Or is there still some merit in utilising paper documents alongside their digital counterparts?

Fighting ransomware with paper

Ransomware is a common and dangerous type of malware that encrypts a victim’s files, systems or networks, effectively holding them hostage until a specific amount of money is paid. 

A ransomware attack can cripple firms with both temporary or permanent loss of sensitive information and data, along with disruption to regular operations and financial losses incurred to restore systems and files.

A paper backup might not entirely solve a ransomware breach, but it could at least give firms the peace of mind to step back and take a minute to calmly assess the situation. Successfully tackling a ransomware attack is about thinking clearly and logically — and a paper backup could act as a life raft in a time of crisis. 

Internal versus external threats

Of course, paper poses an entirely new set of security considerations. If I lose employee data in any of our companies, I could be prosecuted — and rightfully so. But the simple fact is that paper, locked in a secure safe in a secure office, cannot be hacked from the outside. Certain records might be better placed being locked away in a physical location. 

With paper documents, there is a greater threat posed by internal rather than external forces. In situations where highly sensitive documents are printed on paper, it’s critical that files are safely and correctly stored away in an organised manner. That means no messy piles of cardboard boxes stored on your office floor. 

If your law firm does utilise paper, all staff must have a clear understanding of how to use those documents safely and securely. Staff should have a good understanding of the security risks at play across both paper and digital data, and your firm should have clear security processes in place for both. 

With no end in sight for cyber security breaches as we head into 2023, the shift to a completely paperless office needs serious consideration. While digital is quite clearly the future, there’s no reason why paper can’t play a useful role in Aussie firms’ wider security strategies.

Vincent Nair is the chief executive and executive chairman of SMARTECH Business Systems.