The Role of the CISO for Law Firms

This is the first installment in a four-part series about industry CISOs. Be sure to check back next week for the second chapter.

Any effective information security program has a dedicated professional in charge. This person is usually the chief information security officer (CISO). I can’t think of many sectors where having a CISO would be more important than in the legal industry, for various reasons. It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of the CISO for law firms that state-sponsored cybercriminals or organized crime rings might consider high-value targets.

Law firms are not traditionally known for their technical prowess. In fact, many law firms with which I have consulted over the years were still running the Novell NetWare operating system. I’m pretty sure some firms are still running it to this day. It also wouldn’t surprise me to find attorneys using antiquated mobile devices and related technologies that haven’t quite caught up with the times.

Law Firms Make Rich Targets

The sobering reality is that law firms are a huge target for attacks. Consider all the sensitive information related to legal transactions and cases involving mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property, personally identifiable information (PII) and so on. Cybercriminals seeking highly valuable information that can be used for personal gain, revenge or economic advantage are wise to target law firms.

Perhaps this is why the American Bar Association provided guidance on securing law firm networks. The Attorney’s Liability Assurance Society also offers resources, such as “Cyber Lawyering Information Management and Security: A Law Firm Management Guide,” which I had to the opportunity to help write.

The Importance of the CISO for Law Firms

This begs the question: Do law firms need to have CISOs who are dedicated to overseeing information security initiatives? Considering what’s at stake and given the myriad reports of high-profile breaches, I believe it’s erroneous to underestimate the importance of the CISO for law firms.

Having done a fair amount of expert witness work, I’ve seen the amount of sensitive information involved in any given legal case. There’s a lot to lose, and the risk of losing it certainly increases if security is not getting the attention it deserves.

CIO Versus CISO

Many law firms have chief information officers (CIOs) who are often in charge of information security but not dedicated to the cause. CIOs know certain basics, but they are not specialists. I can just imagine a law firm having to explain to its clients, a judge or a jury why it didn’t have a dedicated professional in charge of risk assessment after suffering a data breach. Firms that employ many attorneys spread across the country or globe, especially those with high-profile clients, cannot operate without a CISO leading the security charge.

Related to this Article

An experienced CISO can provide technical and administrative guidance on information security concerns and advocate for strategies to minimize business risks for the firm and its clients. In fact, security-savvy clients will demand that law firms implement a well-oiled information security program with strong leadership to ensure that sensitive resources are kept in check.

Alternative Security Leadership

It is more difficult for smaller firms to justify dishing out six figures for a full-time CISO. These firms would still benefit, however, from hiring a part-time or outsourced CISO, or another dedicated internal resource in charge of information security initiatives at the manager or director level.

Whether or not your firm is contemplating hiring a CISO, the topic should be discussed among all stakeholders. If consensus can’t be reached, a reasonable short-term solution would be to hire an independent party to perform an information risk assessment to determine the level of maturity and number of holes in the existing IT environment.

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Kevin Beaver

Independent Information Security Consultant

Kevin Beaver is an information security consultant, writer, and professional speaker with Atlanta-based Principle...