Is Law Firm Data Safe in the Cloud?

With all the data breaches, leaked celebrity photos, identity theft, and hacks into databases of major corporations taking place these days, one can’t help but question the security of our modern technological infrastructure. And for law firms, maintaining the security and integrity of sensitive client data is of the utmost importance. So this begs the question, is law firm data safe in the cloud? This post contains our analysis on the security of law firm data in the cloud.

Is Law Firm Data Safe in the Cloud?

Much like a legal question, when you ask “is law firm data safe in the cloud,” the answer is an unsatisfactory “it depends.” For the most part, cloud computing is secure. It’s highly unlikely that you will encounter any security breaches or data loss with any reputable cloud software company.

However, there is always the possibility of a security breach when data is stored in the cloud. Just like there is the possibility of hackers breaking into onsite servers (e.g. what happened at Sony recently), and just like there is the possibility that paper files could be stolen, lost in a fire, etc.

To date, there is not a single data format that is 100% secure and free from any risk of loss. So when analyzing the security of the cloud, it all comes down to the level of risk, along with other factors like efficiency, accessibility, and the always important factor of cost.

Below is an explanation of some of the benefits of storing data in the cloud, the security concerns you will face, and the precautions you can take to ensure that your law firm’s data is safe in the cloud.

Benefits of Cloud Computing

There are some incredible benefits to cloud computing, and despite all the chatter about security concerns, the cloud is not going away. Here are some of the major benefits of using cloud software in your law firm:

  • Ease of use

Cloud software is easy to use, fast to set up, and highly scalable. You can roll out a new product for everyone in your firm to use almost immediately. Not only is onboarding and setup a breeze, but also, there is very minimal ongoing maintenance and the updates happen automatically without any action required.

  • Accessibility of data

Most busy attorneys are spending more time on the go these days. Court appearances, client meetings, events, etc. Fortunately, with the rise of mobile devices and cloud software, it’s possible to have access to all your data on the go. You can literally run your practice from anywhere, even as an entirely virtual law firm.

  • Lower cost

This biggest factor that makes cloud software so appealing for businesses is the reduced cost. In the past, companies would purchase or rent large server farms, hire IT staffs or contractors to maintain them, and then purchase and deploy expensive software programs and applications to be used by their employees.

With cloud computing, companies simply rent the software, the servers, the storage, and everything else from a service provider for a monthly or annual subscription fee. The cloud created an entirely new model of software delivery, and a significantly more economical one.

SEE ALSO: The Best Cloud Software for Lawyers

Concerns of Cloud Computing

Despite all the benefits, many law firms are still hesitant to jump on the cloud bandwagon. There are valid concerns about the cloud that are worthy of consideration before adopting any new cloud software product. Here are a few of the biggest concerns with cloud software:

  • Downtime

Anytime you rely on network access, there is some risk of downtime. Your smartphone may be out of cell reception, your internet might go down temporarily, or your cloud software provider may experience server outages. Any of these reasons may create downtime, in which your law firm data won’t be accessible.

This is certainly a concern. Even massive software products like Gmail and Dropbox have temporary outages. The good news is that most service providers take measures to address any such outages immediately, often reducing the total downtime to just a matter of minutes for any given outage. Downtime is a slight concern, but a pretty minor one.

  • Hacks and data theft

Fear of a security breach is probably the biggest concern with cloud software. We hear about hackers breaking in to databases and stealing people’s confidential data all the time. It certainly does happen, and it’s always a risk. But in reality, the risk of being hacked is pretty negligible.

Utilizing cloud software doesn’t necessarily expose you to any more risk of a security breach than owning your own IT infrastructure. Think about it…major companies like Target and Sony have been hacked in the past few years, and they manage all their IT infrastructure in-house

What it comes down to is vulnerability vs. control. People falsely equate lack of control with increased vulnerability. That just isn’t the case. If anything, large and reputable cloud service providers probably actually have better security systems in place than most smaller companies with in-house IT infrastructure.

  • Data loss or destruction

Finally, people worry that malfunctions could occur in which their data could be destroyed, or that the company might go out of business and their data would be lost. Just like downtime and security breaches, these are valid concerns that should be considered. But once again, the risk is relatively small.

Most legitimate cloud software companies have data backup mechanisms in place, as well as the ability for you to download all your data should you want to take it elsewhere, or in the event that the company goes out of business. With those things in place, the risk of losing data or having it destroyed becomes extremely small.

Precautions to Ensure Your Data is Safe

Given the concerns above, it’s important to take certain precautions before moving your law firm data to the cloud. No matter how small the risks of downtime, data theft, or data loss may actually be, the consequences of any of the 3 may be significant and costly. Here’s what you should do to ensure your law firm data is safe in the cloud:

  1. Research – always make sure cloud software providers are legitimate companies, that they use data encryption, and that they have taken other necessary measures to secure their services against threats.
  2. Utilize all the security measures available to you – many cloud services offer additional layers of security that are optional, like two-factor authentication; if they offer added security measures, make use of them!
  3. Use strong passwords – so many times, data breaches are the result of user-error and not due to vulnerabilities in the software itself; make sure you and everyone else at your law firm uses strong passwords, and be sure to update them periodically (try using a tool like LastPass which makes password creation & management super easy).
  4. Frequent security checkups – put security mechanisms in place early so that security becomes a part of your law firm’s overall mentality, and do checkups frequently to make sure all your attorneys and staff members remain in compliance.

The cloud computing movement is still in it’s early stages. The lightweight, economical nature of the on-demand software delivery model makes cloud software irresistible in many ways. And while there have been a number of security breaches and other horror stories that have arisen, security will improve over time and ultimately the cloud will prevail.

In our opinion, the transition to the cloud stands to become one of the most significant advancements in the evolution of computing to date. But until security advancements catch up to the pace of cloud software development itself, just make sure to be cautious and do your homework to minimize the potential risks involved.

Photo Credit: elhombredenegro via Flickr (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License)

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