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Solo practitioners at risk of online piracy

Solo practitioners must be as vigilant as partners at the biggest law firms in protecting themselves — and by extension, their clients — against computer hackers and online pirates, warns the chief information officer at a large Potomac practice.

“Every attorney, as soon as they leave the office, is a satellite office,” said Robert J. Baumgarten, of Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy & Ecker P.A. in Potomac. “We don’t have control of their home machines and mobile devices.”

Lawyers, therefore, must ensure they have up-to-date antivirus software on their computers and separate passwords for all their programs to thwart high-tech thieves, he said.

Attorneys should also have applications on their mobile devices that shut them off if they are idle for a few minutes. Such a safety measure is essential if the devices are found unattended — even a good Samaritan whose “curse of human curiosity” compels him or her to check the lawyers’ messages before returning their phones, Baumgarten said.

“There are no ifs, ands or buts” about the need for attorneys to protect the computers and devices they carry everywhere and can therefore misplace, he added. “You can leave the keys to the kingdom sitting in the back of a taxicab.”

Baumgarten will deliver his warning Friday to attorneys at the Maryland State Bar Association’s annual meeting in Ocean City. He will speak at a session titled “Where are Your Vulnerabilities? Technology and Cybersecurity in the 21st Century: Not Just for the Big Firms.”

“A lot of it comes down to common sense,” Baumgarten said. “Make sure your operating system is up to date.”

In addition, lawyers with high-tech gadgets must beware of threats lurking in places that appear safe.

For example, a Wi-Fi system in, say, a hotel conference room can be especially vulnerable, as online transmissions can be intercepted in the wireless world by someone with a very affordable interception device, Baumgarten said.

“Avoid Wi-Fi unless you own it,” he warned. “There is nothing to prevent somebody from playing man in the middle.”

He also urged attorneys to “monitor [their] financial accounts with regularity” and not assume their math is off if they notice a dollar or two missing. That small amount could have been caused by a hacker testing if he or she has successfully compromised an account as a prelude for a bigger score, Baumgarten said.

“They’re patient,” he said of hackers. “They’ll wait for a big settlement [deposit] to come in.”

In addition, Baumgarten said, attorneys should disabuse themselves of the notion that only big firms get hacked, noting that thieves generally do not try to rob the well-guarded Fort Knox. Large law firms, likewise, have information technology staff members to protect them.

“You as a solo have to be concerned,” he said. “The thieves don’t go for the highly secured environments.”