Be alert to cyber criminals cashing in on pandemic – Paul Mosson

Information and awareness are often the best defences in thwarting the lockdown crooks, warns Paul Mosson
Paul Mosson is law Society of ScotlandPaul Mosson is law Society of Scotland
Paul Mosson is law Society of Scotland

The word ‘unprecedented’ has been much used to describe the circumstances we currently find ourselves in as a consequence of the global pandemic – and for good reason.

Few of us have experienced conditions close to those of this strange new world. But what makes this situation truly ‘unprecedented’ is how all-pervasive the pandemic is, how wide its reach and how we are all affected in one way or another.

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Experiences vary, of course, depending on our circumstances, but one thing many of us have observed is how different and indeed how much worse the last three months might have been without access to the technology we often take for granted.

Many of us have relied on digital platforms to bridge the gaps in our working lives, education and relationships. Technology has provided solutions, in the short term at least, to many of the secondary issues caused by the coronavirus.

And while for the most part digital platforms are being put to good use, there are those who have identified opportunities in the disruption and are using technology for illicit purposes. These have been well documented in the press and as the professional body for Scottish solicitors, the Law Society has been alerted to a number of cases where, in response to fraudulent emails, clients have transferred sums of money to criminal accounts rather than to their solicitors.

Of course, there are measures we can all take to safeguard against crimes like these, perhaps the most effective of which is simply being alert to the threats. Any instruction by email to transfer funds to an alternative account should ring alarm bells and a simple phone call to verify the sender will put your mind at rest, one way or another.

Cybercrime and information security present challenges for all organisations, with breaches having the potential to cause major disruption, reputational damage and financial losses. And the legal profession is no exception. In fact, as holders of sensitive data often in combination with the ability to move large sums of money, law firms can be particularly attractive targets to criminals

Again, information and awareness are often the best defences and the profession is armed to the hilt. Our guide to cybersecurity details the latest threats and risks and provides best practice tips to help our members protect their businesses and clients from attack.

More recently, we have agreed a new strategic partnership with Mitigo cybersecurity to provide resources and guidance specifically designed for the legal sector. Training, technology testing and a dedicated helpline will be available to help solicitors stay secure and protect the public they serve in an ever-changing threat landscape.

And while the use of technology has certainly heightened as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, it was always the direction of travel for industry, commerce and the legal profession. Debates have already begun about the pandemic’s legacy and digital progress almost always features in the discussions.

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Since lockdown, remote working has been the only option for many individuals and firms striving to maintain some semblance of continuity. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.

With no viable alternatives, online solutions which might otherwise have featured in longer term planning, have been put in place. Paper processes have been moved online and tasks which could only be carried out on site are being done at home. Lockdown has provided clearer sight of what might be possible in terms of different and new ways of working.

For as long as most of us can remember, technology has played a key role in the way business and legal transactions are carried out, but through the crisis, it has taken on a central role and become core to the ability to function.

As restrictions ease and we begin to consider the best and safest routes out of lockdown, decisions will have to be made on what we want the ‘new normal’ to look like – and it seems likely that many of the digital advancements which have been made in response to lockdown will stick around in the longer term.

Paul Mosson is executive director of member services engagement, Law Society of Scotland

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