What lawyers need to know about data encryption

What lawyers need to know about data encryption

Technology gives law firms more efficient ways to store, transmit, and process data. However, with every new opportunity comes a certain degree of risk. In a sector that relies so heavily on trust and confidentiality, it’s imperative to take every possible step to reduce that risk. Data encryption is a vital tool for preventing the exposure of sensitive client and business information.

How does encryption work?

Encryption uses algorithms to scramble digital information and make it indecipherable to anyone who doesn’t have the decryption key. Today’s encryption algorithms are highly advanced and practically impossible to crack without the key. In fact, it would take longer than the projected life span of the universe for a supercomputer to crack a 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES-265), which is currently the strongest encryption protocol.

That doesn’t mean encryption is completely foolproof. Although most encryption algorithms are practically impossible to hack with a brute force attack, criminals often try to dupe victims into giving away things like decryption keys. These keys are either private or public. A private key is the same for both encryption and decryption, which means both parties need the same one before they can communicate securely. With public keys, the encryption key is available for anyone to use, but only the receiving party has access to the decryption key. Both options can be highly secure, but public key encryption is by far the most common since it is easier to use and enables digital signage, which can offer important benefits for lawyers.

Why do law practices need encryption?

Like businesses in other sectors, law firms are starting to move their data and operations to the cloud to enjoy enhanced accessibility and flexibility. In fact, even if you’re not at all familiar with the cloud, you’re probably already using it in the form of web-based email. Before you start dumping all your legal documents in Microsoft OneDrive, however, you must realize that they’re not going to be sufficiently secure unless you take some extra steps.

With a lot of public cloud storage facilities like OneDrive or Google Drive, data is only encrypted while it’s in transit. But when the data is at rest, it isn’t likely to be encrypted by default. In most cases, that’s fine, but not when it comes to sensitive legal documents.

Lawyers should encrypt their entire system, whether it’s a local computer, a cloud storage facility, or a smartphone. Sensitive data should be encrypted both at rest and in transit to protect against hackers. For example, if you have confidential legal documents unencrypted on your smartphone, having a thief gain access to them can be a whole lot worse than losing the value of the device.

Another common threat exploits data in transit, particularly when it’s being sent over unsecured public wireless networks. With the right software, anyone can listen in on traffic being sent between the computer and the local router. But if the data is encrypted, they won’t be able to read the encrypted data.

What sort of data should be encrypted?

To avoid having to redact a great deal of important information from your emails and other communications, you should keep everything encrypted and only send sensitive data through secured channels. Many lawyers still rely heavily on printed documents because they believe them to be more secure, but this is a misconception.

A printed document can be physically intercepted, while an encrypted digital file might be intercepted but will be useless to any third party. By securing all communications and digital storage devices and services with an AES-256 algorithm, you can keep your client and business information out of unauthorized hands. This should include any documents or emails that include financial or personal information, such as settlement agreements, account statements, and tax returns.

With a robust encryption policy, law firms can innovate faster and take efficiency to the next level, and that means happier clients and greater profitability.

Umbrella Managed Services empowers law firms to improve client service delivery with secure digital technologies and expertise. Call us today to find out how.