Cyber-attacked prestigious Bay Street law firms claim securing client confidentiality is a priority. What about email?

Last night, the CBC reported on foreign hackers who launched a massive attack on Canadian government computers last fall, also broke into the data systems of prominent Bay Street law firms to get insider information on an attempted $38-billion corporate takeover of Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan. No surprise, statements issued by the legal firms were predictable and generic.  But what struck me was that the issued statements included something that goes like this:  “We take our obligations of confidentiality to our clients very seriously”. Following on to my blog entry in November, it sure doesn’t feel that way. The medium most used by law firms to communicate with their clients is email.  I have and continue to use lawyers extensively for personal and corporate representation, including employment lawyers for the HR side of my life.  Not once has a law firm ever used email encryption or secure email to communicate with me.  Not only does the body of the email contain sensitive strategy conversations, but there are also numerous draft documents that are transferred back and forth as unsecured email file attachments. Now I will concede that the information I am dealing with, such as personal family law matters or employee terminations are likely not as sexy or hack-worthy as the Potash deal.  But how do I know that this information is not being intercepted and reviewed?  Who is going to fess up if this happens?  It may be happening all the time and I just don’t know about it – and never will. Email is a much easier target for attacks then any client file saved behind a legal firm’s firewall. Email leaves the relative safety of the legal firm and travels into the world ‘wild’ web through various passages and nodes before it gets to its final destination.  It can be intercepted at any time through its zig zagged and stopped-over journeys through cyberspace. What we do trust is the technology used for internet banking to communicate and process the ultimate in high-risk and sensitive transactions because the protocol used to transfer information is as safe as we can get it. The transmission is protected by an end-to-end SSL pipe that cannot be intercepted.  When we see that additional ‘s’ in https:// in our browser, we are assured that it’s SSL protected – such as when we access internet banking or process a credit card transaction on line. Without that ‘s’, the information submitted is simply not secure. It seems to make sense that we (clients) should be expecting law firms (and government) to begin taking client confidentiality as seriously as banks do, by adopting the same type of security technology used by banking to secure email communication with clients.  After all, whose responsibility is it to safeguard my (the client) confidential and ultra-sensitive information – the law firm or the client?  Addressing compliance and the law is also clear in echoing my feelings about this important topic.  It’s unequivocally the legal firm’s responsibility. It really feels like it’s time for legal firms to put the ‘confidential’ back into ’priviledged and confidential’ for their clients.  Technology exists to help them do just that. Join the discussion. Agree or disagree? Ariane Laird works with Email2. Email2 provides straightforward secure email encryption solutions and data leak prevention for government and law firms that uses the same security technology as internet banking. Email2 enables professional services organizations to securely send, receive, track and automate delivery of confidential email and large attachments outside the organization – without requiring staff or recipients to change their existing email.