Cybersecurity experts have praised a firm for its quick response when its website was partly cloned by hackers apparently based in Russia. 

East of England firm Ashtons Legal posted its own scam warning after elements of its website were copied and amalgamated into another website with a similar domain name for a firm referred to as ‘Ashton Partners LLP’. No such firm exists.

The cloned website lists the names of five of the real Ashtons Legal fee earners and one support staff member. It gives contact details for an address in Leeds which is the base of another firm, Ashton Solicitors. Attempts have been made to send correspondence from someone purporting to be one of the named fee earners.

Ashtons Legal said the domain name for Ashton Partners LLP appeared to have been registered in Russia two days before it came to the firm’s attention through one its fee earners. Efforts are being made to have it taken down, including instructing Russian lawyers.

Meanwhile, Ashtons Legal has notified the Solicitors Regulation Authority and placed announcements on its social media pages to inform clients and other firms, as well as highlighting the matter in Google searches.

Law firms are facing increasing threats from online scams and attempted frauds. The SRA issued 25 scam alerts in June alone, mostly involving scammers sending emails impersonating solicitors and their firms.

Phil Edwards, managing director of legal indemnity insurance broker QPI Legal, who advises firms on how to protect themselves from cyber-attacks, said Ashtons Legal had responded well to the attempted cloning.

'Firms are vulnerable when it comes to this type of cyber-attack and the reality is there is not a great deal they can do to protect themselves from it happening, however, what is crucial is that they act accordingly, responding rapidly and appropriately,’ he said.

Edwards said this type of attack was not the most common cybersecurity breach; in his experience it has cropped up just once in the past five years.

He said cyber-attacks are on the rise within the legal profession and firms need to remain vigilant, although he sounded a downbeat note about the chances of stopping incidents.

'The biggest problem with these types of security breaches is that because it’s not a direct attack on the firm it could be some time before the firm finds out that it has actually happened,’ he added.

'Very often the cloned site is domained outside of the UK. It can prove very difficult therefore for the the firm affected to get the site taken down, as has happened as well in this case.’