Cybersecurity Tips for Accountants: 5 Things You Need to Know
Accountants are privy to some of their client’s most sensitive information. This typically includes information like their address, credit card number, bank account details and more. Clearly, in the wrong hands, this information can be misused with disastrous consequences. This is why accountants need to take every precaution to ensure that the data is stored safely and the risk of security breaches is minimised. Apart from being a violation of ethics, a security breach can also have major legal implications for an accounting firm, especially with the introduction of GDPR. In the digitally connected world we live in today, accountants face new threats from a number of different sources. Here are the five most important cybersecurity precautions firms need to take to ensure that their data is tightly protected.
1. Immediately delete data that you don’t require anymore
Many accounting firms still keep a hold of client data even after the client has left their firm. But doing so can be dangerous as the data can be sold for commercial gain because it is so valuable. Under the GDPR regulations, storing client data that is of no use to you anymore is illegal. You cannot store it for future purposes, use it for client insights and analytics or sell it to third-party vendors. Even if you don’t intend to misuse it, storing old client data can leave you vulnerable in the event that there is a security breach. To prevent accidental misuse of data, it’s important that you routinely delete any client information that you don’t require anymore. This can be one of the most important preventive measures you take against potential security threats.
2. Store all your data on the cloud
It wasn’t very long ago when accountants stored all their client data in physical folders. Today, most have shifted to computer storage instead. But while safer than physical files, this is still not completely secure from malware and security breaches. The extent to which data is protected on your computer depends on how secure your server is. Threats to servers constantly arise and often require a full-time IT support department to monitor and neutralise them. But despite this, physical servers are far from fully secure.
Cloud storage, on the other hand, offers better protection at a much lower overall cost. The cloud can monitor itself, identify threats and update its software to close any security gaps. This can offer accounting firms much higher protection against data breaches than any other form of storage. While you will still have to implement basic network security settings and password protection, the cloud takes care of most of your security requirements.
3. Use Stealth Logins to protect data from vendors
Outsourcing routine accounting and bookkeeping tasks can be a very useful way for accounting firms to allocate more time for higher-value work. However, firms need to ensure that their offshoring partner adheres to the highest security guidelines or they could be at risk for legal repercussions. One of the primary concerns that accounting firms have while outsourcing is that third parties have access to their private log-in details. This means that they can extract private client details and potentially misuse them. Individuals can also carry these login details with them to other organisations where they can see the information.
Password Management Protection (PMP) also known as Stealth Logins are one of the most useful tools to prevent third-party users from accessing your login details and misusing them. Through a stealth login, the account name and password are encrypted and are masked at the time of login, so an external user will not know the details. Stealth logins also allow only users within a specific IP address to access the account, preventing users from misusing it elsewhere.
4. Be aware of security breaches through IoT
As more devices and equipment become connected through the internet, the risk of malware attacks and security leaks also becomes higher. Today, a typical accounting firm has printers and copiers that are connected via the internet, along with mobile phones of employees and sometimes even personal laptops and tablets. Many of these devices operate outside the firm’s secure server, making them vulnerable to attacks. As a firm, it’s important that you take into account all devices with internet connectivity when you set in place a cybersecurity protection plan. Even a single device infected by a virus that is connected to the company network can put every device on that network at risk.
5. Put in place protocol to deal with a security breach
Sometimes, even despite a firm taking every security precaution, a data breach might still take place. In the event that it does, you need to have a comprehensive plan in place to mitigate any issues that might arise. Backing up your data on a regular basis is very important because it helps you retrieve all information and prevent any data from being lost.
Data breaches can also put you at legal risk if you don’t follow the correct procedure. According to GDPR regulations, firms should report a breach to the specified authorities, usually the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the United Kingdom, within 72 hours of a breach taking place. Depending on the nature of the data breached, the firm might also be required to notify their clients immediately. Following the set guidelines ensures that firms who do face a breach can minimise any negative impact in a worst case scenario.
With the volume of sensitive information that accounting firms store, protecting it becomes a paramount responsibility. By staying vigilant about security and regularly updating software, firms can take effective measures to protect this invaluable data from hackers and malware.
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