In his February 2019 article for Law Journal Newsletters, “’Dark Overlord’ Hack Shows Mounting Cyber Risks for Law Firms” law firm global strategy and economics writer Dan Packel reports on a law firm’s worst nightmare: potentially becoming the weak link in a global extortion plot related to the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks.
The litigation is painful enough without another layer of extortion and blame. But whoever is at fault will likely suffer a full-on body blow to brand, credibility, and public perception, because whoever Dark Overlord is, it has announced it is in possession of 18,000 legal and insurance documents pertaining to the hydra-esq litigation battle playing out in dozens of courts with thousands of victims, plaintiffs, defendants, insurers, and experts. And now blame is being slung around like a master artist’s brush at sunset.
No one knows the exact point of hack, but Dark Overlord gloats to hacking insurers Hiscox and Lloyd’s of London, as well as World Trade Center owner Silverstein Properties. For damage control, Hiscox promptly reacted by fingering an as-yet unnamed insurance “specialist” law firm which advised several carriers and insureds. We have solid reason to believe at least one law firm is thick in the mix because the Dark Overlord has released over 45 legal type docs including not only public court filings, but also law firm client invoices, emails between counsel and parties, and confidential discovery material.
What’s so extraordinary is the bluntness and sophistication of Dark Overlord’s extortion scheme. It wants everyone involved, from law firms to carriers and banks and law enforcement, to pay hush money -- or risk exposure of the other 17,950 documents. Simultaneously, showing how today’s ethernet thieves are using truth as the most valuable currency, Dark Overlord is offering to sell the truth to bad actors like Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and hostile nations with something political to gain. In a time when truth is more valuable than gold bullion, that’s real leverage.
“Now, law firms are in the line of fire,” Packel observes, quoting from Paul Rosen, cybersecurity partner at Crowell & Moring, former Chief of Staff at Department of Homeland Security and a fed prosecutor: “Hackers often want to expose things of value to them or others, and this fits in the sad but predictable pattern of hackers doing just that.” And while Packel’s takeaways are right on – that all 9/11 litigation firms should instantly commence deep vulnerability assessments of their own systems and that all law firms should be concerned about not only their own systems but the systems of their third-party vendors – there’s more to say about this.
With technology that is available today to anyone who looks for it, much of this compromised information could have been protected from the outset by implementation of Confidential Communication Channels, highly-protected Differential Sharing protocols, and cradle to grave document monitoring. There really is no reason for information to travel naked. So if Dark Overlord sells the stolen information to Chinese intelligence and suddenly the Chinese cannot access because access has been digitally withdrawn …well, it will have gotten what it deserves.As Robert Mueller said when he headed the FBI, “There are only two types of companies: those that have been hacked, and those that will be. Even that is merging into one category: those that have been hacked and will be again.” With nightmarish cyber-monsters like Dark Overlord on the prowl 24/7, there is no time like the present to invest in the most advanced cybersecurity training and software on the market. Anything short of that is rolling the dice until another Dark Overlord comes around with another extortion scheme. And if your brand or reputation has already been damaged, what better way than to start the rehabilitation process now.