The essential measures you must take to protect your accounting firm from a cyber attack

TechnologyData & Security

Every day, you protect your clients—their businesses, their financials, their best interests. But what steps are you taking to protect your accounting firm against the threats of cyber attacks (and therefore your clients' data)?

Cyber attacks continue to increase at an alarming pace each year and the impacts to businesses are often devastating.

Do you have the right infrastructure implemented to protect your firm’s, team’s and clients’ data?

Perhaps you’ve not given it much thought, or maybe it’s been in the back of your mind as a low priority. If this is the case, this is your sign to assess your current cybersecurity infrastructure and make the necessary changes to protect yourself.

It’s important to note that data breaches and cyber attacks aren’t just aimed at Fortune-500 companies—in fact, small businesses are more attractive targets due to vulnerabilities in their security systems.

Credit card companies, lenders and financial institutions have dealt with data breaches for years, but now accounting firms are becoming prime targets due to the level of sensitive financial data managed day-to-day.

You can hope for the best and assume your firm won’t be targeted, but it’s safer and smarter to plan for the worst.

Take action to protect your firm and your client’s data from a cyber attack. The following are three areas that shouldn’t be overlooked when assessing potential risks for your firm.

1. Educate, train—and empower—your staff

As a service-based business, your team is one of your biggest assets and biggest liabilities. Human error remains a top risk for cyber attacks, second only to malware threats. 

This leaves your accounting firm vulnerable. Innocent mistakes can easily be made by setting weak passwords, or the improper use of personal devices that aren’t protected by your firm’s secure network.

It’s also important to understand how secure your firm’s internal communications are. If your communication channels aren’t protected, then the information being shared cannot be considered private.

Take stock of all the communication channels your firm currently uses and consider:

  1. Implementing a business-grade internal communication solution

  2. Create or review your internal communication policy

  3. Enforce the policy

  4. Continually reassess as needed

It’s also critical to educate your staff on security best-practices and provide ongoing training for all departments. This can start with your onboarding process for new hires and continue with frequent training and check-ins. These updates can cover everything from basic reminders to the latest cyber threats.

The key is to establish security protocols and set expectations for your team to follow them. Your team should understand the basics and importance of data security, have the correct training to create healthy ‘digital habits’ and be empowered to stick to them.

Everyone makes mistakes, but these can be mitigated when your team is informed, takes security measures seriously and understands they will be held accountable for their actions.

2. Invest in cybersecurity professionals

This is a rapidly growing field and cybersecurity skills are in high demand with multiple specialities and areas of expertise. So, even if you have a full-time IT manager on your team, don’t expect that they’re an expert in all things cybersecurity.

If you have a small or even mid-sized firm and can’t afford the additional headcount, make it a priority to hire a qualified outsourced consultant that specializes in cybersecurity who can provide support.

Ensuring the protection of your firm’s information means being informed and finding the right professional. Be diligent in who you hire and take the time to check their credentials, certifications and references.

3. Understand your compliance and regulatory requirements

As an owner or leader of your accounting firm, it’s your responsibility to ensure your systems and processes are compliant. This means staying up to date on all federal, state and local regulatory changes that directly affect your accounting practice or your clients’ businesses.

And this extends to ensuring your service providers are managing your data carefully. 

If you consider yourself a security-conscious business, SOC 2 compliance should be a minimum requirement when choosing a new software provider.

Maintain control by bolstering your firm’s digital defenses

Don’t fall victim to cybercrime by convincing yourself it won’t happen to you. Take action today and make the commitment to:

  • Put preventative measures in place to increase your security defenses

  • Stay vigilant and provide regular communication and training to your staff

  • Invest in effective security measures (and the right experts) to keep your firm protected 

  • Ensure your systems, procedures, vendors and partners are compliant and meet all relevant requirements

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