June 2014 Bar Bulletin
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June 2014 Bar Bulletin

Security Risks in the Age of Cloud Computing

By Dmitry Sheynin


Cloud computing is rapidly transforming the way entire industries conduct business and the legal field is no exception. Like the rest of us, lawyers have been quick to embrace the cloud, but what happens when new technology bucks the very regulations governing professional conduct?

The benefits of cloud storage for most users far outweigh the security and privacy risks inherent to storing information remotely, but these concerns carry particular gravity for those working with privileged information. How does a lawyer reconcile the many benefits of cloud storage with the legal obligation to safeguard client information from unauthorized access?

This was a question posed during "Privacy and Your Practice: Data Sovereignty for Lawyers," a panel discussion recently held at CUNY Law School.

Law and Orderin the Digital Era

The digital revolution has engendered ethical gray areas in the legal industry for decades, with cloud computing only the most recent example. Panel speakers recalled the apprehension that surrounded the use of email and cellphones in the '90s and remarked how "quaint" those concerns seem in retrospect. That context underscored the point that many in the law profession continue to grapple with the implications of digitizing information.

"It used to be in the 1600s, a monk would have to redraw a book by hand and it would take decades," said Grainne O'Neill, a criminal defense attorney. "Now you just push a button and everything gets copied."

Lawyers are quick to admit this shift to digital records was a necessary advent. The first line of a New York City Bar report on the ethics of cloud storage discusses the enormous amount of money and space required to store a law firm's information and research materials in hard copy. The report calls the Internet Age "an answer to prayer."

Cloud storage provides lawyers a new tool, but like email, it also presents a new set of moral quandaries. How do you guarantee the confidentiality of information that isn't stored on site?

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