Cybersecurity’s importance can’t be overstated in the tax and accounting industry, especially with so many firms now embracing remote work. Operating in a fully digital landscape enhances efficiency and work-life flexibility, but it also comes with responsibility.
Insufficient infrastructure has the potential to expose sensitive client information, such as social security numbers and income. Without proper training, staff may not maintain the same approach to cybersecurity at home as they would in the office.
Whether your firm is hybrid, remote, or planning to explore flexible work options, it’s imperative to perform annual reviews of cybersecurity protocols. Here are some best practices to ensure your remote work cybersecurity meets today’s elevated standards.
Transmit data through secure platforms
Your clients entrust you with their personal information to provide high-quality tax expertise, so secure communication is a must. Although email is a useful platform for general communication, it shouldn’t be used for exchanges of sensitive data.
Instead, consider implementing a cloud-based collaboration platform to facilitate secure external and internal document sharing. There are SOC-certified applications on the market that consolidate your taxpayer collaboration into a single platform with state-of-the-art encryption.
Keep systems updated
Software updates address more than minor bugs and feature additions. They also reinforce protection against evolving security threats. Even in a remote environment where computer hardware is dispersed, it’s important to ensure that all systems are regularly updated. If your firm employs one or more IT professionals, they should have the tools to unilaterally apply remote updates from a digital overhead. If you don’t have an IT expert on staff, that responsibility falls on individual employees. To prevent staff from procrastinating on update prompts (or ignoring them altogether), be sure to add mandatory system updates to your remote work cybersecurity protocols. Putting periodic reminders on the calendar and tracking confirmation from employees will help to fortify your digital environment.
Beware of phishing scams
The most common form of cyberattack is phishing scams, which try to “hack humans” for sensitive information. Phishing can happen in the form of emails, advertisements, text messages, and more. While some are fairly clumsy at disguising their intentions, others are more sophisticated. Some phishing scams can credibly impersonate trustworthy vendors at first glance.
That’s why it’s vital to train employees to recognize phishing attempts. Teach your employees that if they have any doubt about the legitimacy of an email, they should alert IT at once. Many businesses protect against phishing by hiring third-party training services (e.g., Cofense, Infosec IQ, KnowBe4) that specialize in teaching remote work cybersecurity best practices.
Use two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication (2FA) is an extra layer of security that has quickly become the standard for safely enabling remote and hybrid work. Even if your firm doesn’t offer flexible work options, you should consider implementing 2FA for all sensitive systems. Strong passwords are no longer the gold standard.
2FA requires users to provide a second form of identification after entering their password, which is usually a code they receive via email or text. 2FA may also include biometric authentication, which verifies a user’s identity by their fingerprint, voice, or facial features (i.e., how many smartphones are unlocked).
Ensure secure network connections
While “work from anywhere” is an enticing recruitment pitch, it should also have one important qualifier: anywhere with a secure network connection. Your remote work cybersecurity protocols shouldn’t permit use of public Wi-Fi networks since sensitive data could be compromised.
Employees should only log into company databases on a password-protected network with a secure connection. Your firm can also go one step further and implement Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) companywide. VPNs ensure data privacy by creating an encrypted layer over a public network. This allows employees to work on the go at cafes or hotels without putting company data at risk.
Establishing a remote work cybersecurity policy
Whatever cybersecurity best practices fit your firm’s needs, it’s still up to your staff to follow them. That’s why it’s essential to outline exactly how staff should operate in remote work conditions. Distributing a cybersecurity reference sheet, conducting yearly refresh trainings, and holding periodic office hours for IT-related questions can help staff keep security top of mind.
How SurePrep solutions promote cybersecurity for remote work
SurePrep solutions enable tax firms to facilitate an end-to-end 1040 process entirely within secure cloud servers. Our web-based applications use bank-grade encryption technology, offer 2FA, and have received SOC 2 Type 2 certification.