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Panama Papers put data security firmly in the spotlight

Posted by: Laurence Simons 08/04/16
If law firms were at all doubtful about the importance of cyber security, they certainly won’t now. The recent leak of 11.5m documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca has put the issue of data protection back into the spotlight, with many experts now calling for firms to ‘up their game’ in order to protect themselves from similar attacks.

The 2.6bn terabyte leak was a result of an external breach of the firm’s email server and led to the release of over 4.8 million emails, three million database entries, two million PDFs, one million images and 320,000 text documents. The leak, coined the ‘Panama Papers’, is the biggest of its kind in history, eclipsing both the WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden disclosures.

Several international law firms have been implicated in the released documents including Simmons & Simmons, which is cited as a legal advisor for investment fund Blairmore Holdings, has a registered office in Panama. Holman Fenwick Willan has also been connected to one of the world’s richest people, United Arab Emirates President, Khalifa bin Zayed Sultan al Nayhan, who is listed as the beneficial owner of over 30 offshore companies set up with the help of Mossack Fonseca.

The leak comes days after reports that nearly 50 prominent law firms were targeted by a Russian cybersecurity criminal named ‘Oleras’, aiming to hack into their systems and gain information for insider trading. A report assembled by New York based threat intelligence firm, Flashpoint, indicated that two Magic Circle firms, and 46 leading US firms were listed as potential targets.

If there was ever a time for firms to bolster their data security it would be now. The Panama Papers have proved that not only can breaches be financially damaging but also devastating for a firm’s reputation – especially if they are helping political figures and oligarchs avoid their taxes.

While the leaks might not be the best news for the legal profession as a whole, it’s certainly good news for cyber security experts with experience operating in the legal services market.