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Is the cloud really a safe place to store confidential information?

16 Mar 2016

Is the cloud really a safe place to store confidential information?

Perhaps not, according to an Auckland cybercrime specialists.

Brian Eardley-Wilmot, veteran cybercrime specialist and managing director of Auckland-based Computer Forensics, says lawyers storing clients’ confidential information in the cloud risk it being accessed by US authorities without permission.

British lawyers have recently been warned, by the UK’s Bar Council’s IT Panel, that US laws could be used to allow authorities to access information backed up to the cloud if the computers used are owned by US companies.

Such information could also be accessed without lawyers’ knowledge, breaching the UK’s Data Protection Act.

Eardley-Wilmot believes New Zealand lawyers face similar dangers. They also have similar legal obligations to protect their clients’ information.

“The background to these worrying developments is Microsoft’s ongoing battle with the US Department of Justice, which wants to seize emails from Microsoft’s data centre in Ireland,” Wilmot explains.

“It may be a drugs case but there is widespread concern that this kind of evidence ‘fishing expedition’ is going too far. It sets a dangerous precedent,” he says.

“The US Patriot Act is being used here, despite one of its authors saying there are always other ways of getting evidence. My concern is that if the British Bar Council is this worried we should be too,” says Eardley-Wilmot.

“The Council has even gone so far as to recommend lawyers encrypt information stored in external data centres.”

The issue of the security of private information stored in the cloud has become so fraught internationally that a new agreement between the US and the European Union had to be hashed out last month. Called the EU-US Privacy Shield, it replaced the Safe Harbour agreement that the EU’s Court of Justice said did not provide adequate protection.

Law firms – go local and encrypt

In the light of these developments, Eardley-Wilmot advises New Zealand lawyers – and their clients – to look to local data storage firms and to consider encrypting any sensitive information they do store in the cloud.

He also advises law firms to keep their most confidential information on their premises – behind their computers’ security firewall.

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