Cyber criminals targetting legal professionals

Hack attacks, ransom threats and theft of money through fraudulent transactions are all becoming a stark reality for legal professionals and law firms around the world, says a legal risk advisor.

Samantha Varela of Aon South Africa says conveyancing attorneys specifically are in the sights of cyber criminals.

The Legal Practitioners' Indemnity Insurance Fund NPC (LPIIF), for instance, has been notified of at least 110 cyber-scam related claims worth over R70m since July 1, 2016.

In a recent case, the sellers of a property approached the court for an order that the conveyancing firm be held liable for their losses after they fell victim to a cyber scam. Scammers posed as the sellers and instructed the conveyancers via email to transfer the proceeds from the sale of their property to a different account. It turned out to be a fraudulent account and the sellers lost R268 348.

"The case was dismissed, with the judge stating that, despite the fact that the conveyancers did not pay the money into the sellers' account, their failure to do so was not due to their negligence," says Varela.

"From this case, we can clearly see that the allegation of negligence based on a cyberattack is incredibly difficult to prove and leaves all parties severely compromised."     

The court will weigh up the conduct of a reasonable professional, to that of a similarly qualified professional— with a similar set of skills, qualifications and qualities, Varela explains.

Other examples of cybercrime attacks in the legal field include privacy or network security breaches, funds transfer fraud, corporate identity theft, telephone hacking and unauthorised use of computer resources.

Varela says that with the proper checks and balances in place, a legal professional can verify a change in banking details or any other fundamental aspects of a matter.

Legal professionals should be aware and understand the implications of cyber and commercial liability, Varela says. They should also have stringent risk management procedures in place, make sure they have a well-informed specialist broker by their side and stay abreast of the unfortunate trends facing their industry.

"[This] will go a long way in addressing the far-reaching implications of cybercrime," she adds.

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