According to security experts, millions of PCs across the world are already infested with spyware -- software that secretly gathers information about a person, system or organization and relays it to a third party over the Internet. Spyware can have serious implications for law firms by jeopardizing confidential client information. All electronically created, stored and transmitted data is at risk.
By Kelly Martin|April 26, 2004 at 12:00 AM
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Information technology has slowly changed the practice of law. It started with word processing, which provided lawyers a much more efficient tool for producing a written product. Then came computer networking, document scanners, the Internet and e-mail. Each new development offered law firms the ability to provide their services at a lower cost and with fewer resource requirements. Yet, even as the legal industry leverages IT to deliver enhanced services and improve overall business operations, Internet threats are increasing. According to the latest Symantec Internet Security Threat Report, one of the most significant threats today is malicious code that exposes confidential data such as passwords, decryption keys, keystrokes and more. Moreover, this malicious code is entering businesses from a widening array of sources. One of the most common delivery vehicles is spyware. According to security experts, millions of PCs in homes and businesses across the world are already infested with spyware. Yet, for all its ubiquity, it remains a relatively misunderstood threat. WHAT IS SPYWARE? Spyware is software that secretly gathers information about a person, system or organization and relays that information to a third party over the Internet. Some spyware simply tracks the kinds of online advertisements a user chooses to follow, then replaces random ads with more relevant material. However, other spyware programs have much more malicious intentions. These programs monitor keystrokes, scan files and snoop other applications such as e-mail and continuously send their findings back to the program’s author or some other unknown user. This information, in turn, is either used by the recipient or sold to yet another unknown party. Regardless of its intentions, spyware never announces itself. Furthermore, once installed, spyware is often difficult to remove as it entwines with critical system files. Spyware’s pervasiveness is due in large part to its covert nature. In most cases, users are unaware that their system is housing such code. What’s more, those who are aware may not know how spyware got on their systems. In actuality, users typically download spyware — unknowingly — when they install another program, particularly freeware or shareware. Freeware and shareware end-user license agreements sometimes refer to their adware or spyware components, although often using very ambiguous language. Because it piggybacks on programs the user explicitly invites and installs, firewalls allow it to pass right through. REDUCING EXPOSURE Spyware has serious implications for law firms. Spyware might not only jeopardize the confidentiality of client information, but it might also put that information into the hands of individuals or groups who could use it to hurt a client. Correspondence, subpoena documents, deposition transcripts, memoranda — all electronically created, stored and transmitted information is at risk. Protecting against this threat requires technology and best practices, as outlined in the following recommendations.
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