Security has become an increasing concern as the proliferation of smartphones and other mobile devices has allowed attorneys to do more work from more places. No longer tied to their desks, attorneys can respond to client requests from the beach or their seat on an airplane. This ability is convenient, but it has created a need for stricter security settings across an increasingly broad array of devices.
Security concerns vary depending on the different types of software solutions in place in the office. For practice management software, it's important that security be taken into consideration as the firm selects a software solution, rather than attempting to overlay security processes after installation. Of course, this is not always possible and the addition of heightened security after implementation can be done if handled efficiently.
At the outset, it is imperative that a firm look objectively at their data-storage needs. How much data will they be storing? How will their attorneys and staff access the data and the software programs? How much security is needed? Will there be a need for differing internal security levels such as group or individual security?
For a firm that needs extensive mobile access, the best decision may be to choose a cloud-based practice management software solution. This mobile access allows attorneys and staff to access data but prevents the inclusion of the software customization that some firms desire, as well as potentially not allowing for extensive security measures to be implemented within the software itself.
Cloud-based solutions offer the opportunity for attorneys to access information from nearly anywhere, as long as an internet connection is available. This means that the firm's data is hosted by a third-party provider at a location other than their office. The upside to this is that the information is most likely physically well-guarded and that server maintenance is overseen by the company hosting the data. Cloud-based software may be a better choice for smaller firms which don't have a dedicated IT staff or department to handle day-to-day concerns such as server management.
The downside to cloud-based software is that communications via the internet are not always secure, potentially opening the firm's sensitive data to hackers. Additionally, security levels for cloud-based software may not be flexible, meaning that it may not be possible to restrict access to certain files or fields for specific individuals or groups within the firm itself.
Since the firm's data is being hosted by a third-party provider, there is always the possibility that access to the system may be down for an undetermined length of time for periodic maintenance or unexpected circumstances. This unreliable access to data cannot be entirely avoided, but it can be guarded against by choosing a proven third-party hosting provider.
Software Installed on In House Servers
A firm may opt for software that is installed on servers housed within the firm's offices. This doesn't necessarily restrict mobile access, but adds an additional layer -- an attorney wishing to connect back to the firm may need to employ a remote-desktop application on his or her mobile device or laptop.
Generally, the firm should have a dedicated IT staff member who is responsible for handling security. Any software applications will have their own security levels, including passwords and possibly other means of restricted access. Many software installations will integrate with existing security protocols, such as Microsoft Active Directory. These software installations may also provide additional levels of security, including group security down to field-level security to restrict access for specific people or groups. This allows the firm the flexibility to establish security settings that reflect the needs of its office.
For a firm that is housing its own servers and data, it is important to establish security protocols and adhere to them. A server that is stored in a closet where anyone in the office can access it is open to tampering and theft. A firm should have a room dedicated to technology and ensure that access to it is restricted and that regular backups are made and tested. This will help increase the safety of the data contained therein and make it easy to recover any data lost as the result of a software failure or physical damage to the servers.
Simple Security Steps
Regardless of the method of data storage, each firm can take simple steps to prevent data loss as a result of thefts, accidents, software failures or human errors. If attorneys are working with sensitive data on mobile devices, they should opt to password-protect each of their devices. Mobile internet access should be restricted to secure networks only, and should be monitored for any inconsistencies or unusual activity.
Selection of practice management software is already an involved process, but by focusing on security as a primary concern in the decision to purchase or upgrade, the firm will ensure that its data and reputation are safe from harm. If practice management software is already in place within the firm, have your IT staff or database administrator take a look into improving the existing security settings. Can they be tailored to groups or individuals? Are passwords in place for each user? Can an administrator monitor activity on the system in real-time? Taking advantage of existing opportunities for increased security can save time and money, and also increase your confidence that your data is secure.