In our extremely connected world, cyberattacks are becoming increasingly common, and having thorough cybersecurity processes and procedures is a necessity for accounting firms and their employees. Whether it is maintaining secure databases for client information or keeping employees safe from phishing attacks, cybersecurity should be a top priority — one that is revisited regularly.
Here are five cybersecurity tips for keeping your accounting firm’s data — and equally important, your clients’ data — secure.
1. Stay on top of cybersecurity trends
Cybersecurity is an ever-evolving field as new technology is developed that combats — or aids — bad actors. Technology that was developed for good has been commandeered by scammers to create more sophisticated attacks — for example, the rise of generative AI has made phishing emails more believable.
The first step to a strong cybersecurity plan is staying on top of changes and trends in cybersecurity, both specific to the accounting industry and overall. While most small developments will not affect your firm’s overall plan, knowing when big changes occur, like updated security standards, will be important. Cybersecurity news sources like SecurityWeek are great resources for staying on top of trends and news.
It is also worthwhile to keep an eye on accounting industry-specific resources, like podcasts, that may occasionally produce cybersecurity content specifically for accountants.
2. Train your employees to detect scams
As cybersecurity trends and standards change, firms should make sure their policies and plans stay updated. A good cybersecurity strategy requires support from everyone at the firm, and it is essential for employees to be trained to recognize when a cyberattack may be taking place. Successful scams rely on human error, and it only takes one mistake for a bad actor to gain access to secure systems. Even with the best tech stack, internal training is still a top defense for keeping firm and client data safe.
A recent study from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency found that 90% of data breaches are caused by phishing. Phishing is one of the more recognizable cybersecurity scams: A scammer sends fake emails or creates fake phone calls to influence their victims into revealing sensitive information. While phishing is just one type of cybersecurity scam, its prevalence can help direct training priorities.
When employees are properly trained to detect suspicious activity, there is a better chance of keeping systems and data more secure. Training needs to be implemented firm-wide and revisited often to ensure employees have all the knowledge they need to succeed. Your firm can develop your own training, work with vendors you already have relationships with, or look for external training from companies such as SANS Institute.
3. Implement tech tools that keep your data safe
Accounting firms are investing more than ever in technology that assists in their day-to-day operations, with 61% of firm leaders indicating they will increase their investment in financial automation during the next 12 months. Choosing the right technology is about more than cost and efficiency — security needs to also be top of mind.
When looking for a tech tool, there are a few features to keep in mind, beyond making sure they adhere to financial regulations.
- Protecting data: Protecting and ensuring the integrity of sensitive data — especially financial information — should be a high priority. Data protected with modern encryption algorithms is the most secure.
- Streamlining access: When user permissions are managed more efficiently in one place, it makes it easier to ensure that only authorized individuals can view or modify data, reducing the risk of unauthorized access. Additionally, security is simplified because users need to authenticate to one system only.
- Centralized security: Using one integrated tool helps maintain audit context in one system, making it much easier to perform audits and gain the necessary information from one location.
4. Have a plan in place for if an attack does occur
Even with cybersecurity precautions, cybercriminals are sometimes still able to gain access to networks. Having a plan in place to immediately cut off a hacker’s access and determine what data was compromised should be a priority for accounting firms.
Hackers that target accounting firms will typically be looking for access to invoice numbers, bank accounts, usernames and passwords, credit card numbers and more. This could be client information, employee information or other sensitive company information.
There are a few steps that every plan should have, and it is up to each individual firm to build off of those steps as needed. Put the plan into writing, outlining all necessary procedures, and distribute it to the entire firm so everyone is aware of what steps need to be taken in the event of an attack.
5. Clearly communicate your cybersecurity standards
As the keepers of their important financial data, clients are going to want confirmation they are working with a firm that takes their cybersecurity seriously. Assuring clients there is a plan in place in case of an attack helps them feel secure in retaining your firm for their accounting needs. It can also differentiate your firm from others that have not leaned into cybersecurity. In addition, it’s important for clients to have strong protections in place to safeguard against cyberattacks within their own companies. As accounting firms aim to be good strategic partners to their clients, it could be helpful to share strategies for safeguarding data.
Cyber protection may feel like a never-ending to-do list item, but it is key for your firm to have a strong plan in place to prevent a possible security breach. By developing this plan, deploying the tech solutions that help enable it, keeping it updated, and ensuring all employees are trained to enforce it, accounting firms can keep their client and company data secure.
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