Cyber attacks on Irish law firms leap almost 50%

Over one-third of cases see companies held to ransom...

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A new study has highlighted the rapidly growing problem of cybercrime for Irish law firms.

Attacks have shot up by almost half over the past year, according to Amárach Research.

Three out of 10 firms have suffered a security breach in the past 12 months, with 38% of the country's top 20 firms being hit.

Over half of the attacks were malware-related, while 35% involving ransomware, where hackers demand money to unlock blocked computer systems. Four in 10 Irish firms suffered "down time" due to attacks.

The annual survey of 107 practices was carried out on behalf of consulting firm Smith & Williamson. Although the names of the firms were not revealed, 13 of the country's top 20 firms, 17 mid-tiers and 77 small firms were involved.

The report concluded that cybercrime poses "a clear and present threat to legal practices in Ireland". It is anticipated that attacks will be carried out with increasing frequency.

It states:

"Law firms present a particularly attractive target for cyber criminals. Firms hold sensitive and potentially valuable data about individuals and corporates and may have significant client account balances on hand.

"Losing client data or funds or having sensitive and confidential information exposed may be the most frightening outcome for a law firm resulting from a cyber attack.

"Earlier this year it was reported that law firms were the targets of espionage by hackers who tried to obtain merger and acquisition details in order to facilitate insider trading.

"Firms acting in this area are likely to remain at risk from both cybercriminals and nation state attacks."

Falling optimism

Elsewhere in the Smith & Williamson survey, a sharp fall in the optimism of Irish law firms was recorded.

Some 55% of firms believe that its business outlook improved over the past year, compared to 74% in last year's survey.

Brexit – which will have a "significant impact" over the next five years – as well as Trump's election, upcoming elections in France and Germany and public sector unrest and political uncertainty at home were the key factors cited.

Every single top firm had seen an improvement in sentiment in the previous survey – now a mere 54% feel that way a year on.

It wasn't all bad on the Brexit front, with 36% of companies believing it would be good for the legal sector.

Some 87% predict that UK law firms will establish offices in Dublin through mergers or acquisitions, as opposed to greenfield startups.