Web tracking and data collection are useful tools for businesses, but they contribute to a significant amount of the risk of being on the internet and can impact law firm data security. With web tracking, websites can identify and collect data from users, often following their activity, collecting data, and selling it to third parties.

The best way to protect the privacy of the law firm and clients is with a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN acts as a layer of cyber protection by evading pervasive tracking practices and gatekeeping access to different internet users.

After breaches and hacks in recent news that showcased ransomware and entire firm shutdowns by hackers, law firms of any size can’t afford to neglect law firm data security. In fact, the ABA Model Rules now include a duty to maintain technological competence.

What is a VPN?

A virtual private network is exactly what it sounds like – an online network with privacy measures to protect the user. Many businesses and corporations use a VPN, even if the staff doesn’t know about it.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the push to remote work environments, employees went home and tried to perform their jobs from their home network, only to discover that the business’s servers and data require additional credentials, such as a key or password with two-factor authentication.

VPN Benefits for Law Firms

Law firms often handled sensitive information and conducted research in person, since it was better for protecting client interests and eliciting trust. With legal management solutions and automation reaching widespread adoption, however, law firms need to find new ways to store and protect data.

A VPN meets three primary concerns:

Privacy and Security

Public Wi-Fi is open and unprotected. Law firm staff may use the public internet to access client information, potentially exposing massive data stores to the public. Hackers can learn private details like banking information, case information, firm communications, and more, all of which can be costly to fix and nearly impossible to recover from in a reputation management scenario.

VPNs protect the privacy of the firm and its staff when they access firm files away from the office. For example, a lawyer may check emails at a lunch meeting or conduct research from an internet café. If these solutions don’t have protection, lawyers are inadvertently giving hackers a way into the network.

Anonymity

Everyone knows (or can find out) who everyone else is on the internet. A VPN offers anonymity for internet users by masking the location where the user is while they’re using the internet. This is done by bouncing the internet traffic through a server in a far-off country or sending the traffic through multiple servers all over the world. If a hacker is trying to track the activity, they’ll only see the fake locations that the VPN routed traffic to.

Encryption

Law firms handle sensitive information in a variety of ways, including through email communication. Instead of avoiding email correspondence, lawyers can encrypt information and send documents via email without worrying about interception from hackers and bad actors. Law firm employees can encrypt sensitive data like medical or financial records, which scrambles it and makes it impossible for anyone to read. The employee then sends the decryption key, which allows the document to be read in another document.

How to Choose a VPN

A VPN is a broad term and different VPNs offer different capabilities. Choosing the right one depends on the needs of the firm and the risk they’re open to. Complex VPNs may offer a number of protocols to eliminate blockers and censorship. Some VPNs use zero logs, which means the law firm’s sensitive data about connection, activity, or bandwidth can’t be gathered, stored, or shared with others.

VPN pricing can vary, however. A premium VPN solution with a lot of protocols may offer incredible performance and security measures, but it can be overkill for a small firm. Cheaper VPNs may be the ideal choice for a small firm that just needs an added layer of security. While there are free VPNs available, they can leave a firm open to security threats and offer limited capabilities.

Do Small Law Firms Need VPNs?

Some people think of VPNs as something reserved for large corporations and firms, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Small firms are just as vulnerable to data breaches and cyber threats, especially since they may not have adequate security measures in place compared to large firms.

In fact, law firms are at greater risk for cyber threats than ever before. According to a study conducted by the ABA Journal with the LogicForce cybersecurity firm, one-third of participants from 200 law firms experienced some kind of cyber breach. To make matters worse, 77 percent of participants didn’t have cyber insurance, 95 percent of participants didn’t follow their own cyber policies, and 100 percent of participants weren’t compliant with a client’s cybersecurity policies.

A big law firm may be a bigger target for hackers since there’s so much information to gain for the risk, but that’s not to say that a hacker wouldn’t try to hit a small firm or solo practice. These small operations typically have fewer security measures in place and often lack the sophisticated technology to identify weaknesses.

How to Implement a VPN

Implementing and installing a VPN is quick and simple, even without an IT team. Law firms can find a range of options for VPNs specifically intended for law firms. Once the VPN is selected, it’s paid for and installed on the computer system, then validated by the product key.

From there, the installation is a clear process that the system walks users through. Once the download and installation are complete, the law firm is safely online and secured.

Once in practice, staff likely won’t know it’s there unless told. Law firms worry that staff will have issues every time they log in and out of the system or that the system will drop internet connections at the slightest indication of increased traffic. A VPN is much simpler, actually – it’s just installed and turned on. Users don’t need to take extra steps every time they go on the internet.

Law Firm Data Security with a VPN

A VPN takes antivirus solutions a step further by securing information and protecting users from bad actors tracking information while they use the internet. VPNs come in many varieties, but they’re generally helpful in any capacity and provide protection from a common threat.

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