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Cybersecurity Risks in a Pandemic

It would be an understatement to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a lifestyle change across the globe.  In Malaysia, the Movement Control Order (“MCO”) which came into effect on 18 Mar 2020 saw the majority of work organisations shift to work remotely for the first time1.  Consequently in the legal sector, courts were closed and all civil and criminal hearings, except urgent applications, fixed before the court were suspended or postponed until further notice.  Nevertheless, the judiciary has encouraged for civil matters to be conducted remotely via the court’s e-Review system, video conferencing, and exchange of emails between the parties2 so as to ensure that the public was not denied access to justice during the MCO and the ongoing Recovery MCO (“RMCO”) which has been extended nationwide till 31 Mar 2021.  In some states or areas, the Conditional MCO (“CMCO”) and Enhanced MCO takes effect as and when necessary, with dates extended depending on the number of cases.

Lawyers are now faced with unprecedented challenges such as the lack of in-person support staff, lack of face-to face meetings with clients, and cybersecurity risks posed from a workspace at home.  This pandemic has led to an inevitable surge in the use of digital technologies in law firms, particularly to facilitate online court hearings, communication with clients, and business continuity.  It is foreseeable that the risks of hackers and cyberattacks would be on the rise now more than ever.

A law firm’s main priority while adapting to the work from home trend should first and foremost be its clients’ confidentiality.  Any corporate data, especially those containing sensitive information, should only be stored on a firm-issued computer.  In cases where employees are allowed to use their own devices while working from home, the firm should emphasize on the importance of data encryption and have a clear policy which addresses data ownership and control.  In any event, cloud computing is highly encouraged and law firms should take measures to ensure all work devices are installed with the appropriate security software.

A recent study has shown that 77% of Malaysian respondents connect corporate laptops to their home network in COVID-19 era3.  Home networks are likely to be 3.5 times more likely to have a malware infection present as compared to a corporate network4.  Ideally, employees working on home WiFi should use a Virtual Private Network (“VPN”) to create a secure connection and encrypt their internet traffic to anonymize all internet activities.

The threat of cybersecurity attacks are imminent in a global cyber pandemic.  While it is impossible to prepare for every potential risk, law firms should take early and decisive actions to counter cyber threats with proper contingency planning.  This goes to prove the old adage: “Prevention is better than cure.”

Best Practice Tips:

  • Do not share sensitive data and passwords via email.
  • Avoid uploading corporate data to a non-work application/device.
  • If possible, use a firm-issued computer for all work-related matters and avoid using a home device.
  • Avoid using free VPN services which may collect and share user data.
  • Conduct security awareness training for employees and set out your company’s standards and expectations.
  • Set a strong and unique password for your home WiFi.
  • Increase your home WiFi security by activating network encryption.
  • In a shared-accommodation, ensure that your laptop and any other device containing confidential information arestored away securely.
  • Consider purchasing cyber liability insurance for your legal firm.

1 Restricted Movement Order Starting March 18 Due To COVID-19, Says PM order-starting-march-18-due-to-COVID-19-says-pm/

2 COVID-19: courts go online to regulate administration of justice https:// Partnership/COVID-19-courts-go-online-to-regulate-administration-of-justice

3 Majority of Malaysians connect corporate laptops to home network
— survey connect-corporate-laptops-home-network-%E2%80%94-survey

4 Identifying Unique Risks of Work from Home Remote Office Networks home-remote-office-networks#:~:text=Some%20attributes%20of%20 Work%20from%20Home%20%2D%20Remote%20Office%20N- etworks%3A&text=7.5x%20more%20likely%20to,observed%20 3.75x%20more%20frequently