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How Accountants Can Prevent Cyber Crime & Stay Alert to Cybercriminals

June 16, 2020

With 67% of accountants preferring cloud-based accounting and the cloud-account market expected to reach $4.2 billion by 2023, accountancy firms are facing increased online risk.

While most companies face cyber threats, accounting systems are particularly vulnerable to computer crimes because of the type of data they handle. So much so that PwC estimates financial institutions are more than 30% more likely to face a cyber attack.

Whether you’re a multinational or small local accounting firm, it’s your responsibility to make sure your clients' data is protected and you stay one step ahead of the cybercriminals looking for weaknesses and loopholes in your system.

Read on to find out more about cybersecurity in accounting, advice on preventing cyber crimes from targeting company and client data, and how to respond to an attack.

What is Cyber Crime?

Cyber crime is a crime where a computer is the target, or the tool, to commit an offence, through spamming or hacking information. Cybercriminals use computer technology to access or exploit personal data or business trade secrets, usually for malicious purposes.

Cyber Attacks To Look Out For

Cyber crime is constantly evolving as cyber criminals find new ways to steal data and damage corporate structures. The first step to protect your accountancy firm against cyber attacks is to understand the most common types of cyber crime.

Ransomware happens when malware is unleashed on your system to block access to your data until you pay a ransom to get it back. Ransomware often happens through email that might include an attachment or links to sites carrying the malware payload.
Phishing also happens through email. These emails are often made to look like they're sent from a trusted contact or company to trick you into revealing personal information. Skilled cyber criminals can mimic the desired organisation almost exactly, making these attacks very difficult to detect.
Insider Threats, when digital information is stolen from the inside either by an employee, former employee, or anyone with access to the inside of your firewall, antivirus and endpoint protection.

How Accountants Can Protect Their Firms

Accountants and CPAs are responsible for keeping their own data safe by complying with data protection practices and maintaining overall security. Here are some tips on how to prevent cyber attacks by maintaining cybersecurity in the accounting workplace:

Stay Vigilant

Since it’s impossible to know when systems can get hacked, it's vital to stay vigilant at all times. Never open emails from unknown sources even if they seem legit, and do not click on pop-ups or links.

It might seem obvious, but it only takes one slip-up for a cyber criminal to gain access to valuable information and potentially cause devastating reputational and financial damage.

Be suspicious and always double-check anything that seems unclear, and never share any data to outside sources unless specifically instructed. Following data protection guidelines, ensure the computer is always locked when the desk is unmanned.

Computer Security

Make sure you have the correct malware protection software installed on your devices. Once installed, remember to regularly update the software and keep all operating systems up to date too.
Cyber criminals are experts at finding new ways to get past firewalls so turn on automatic updates to ensure the latest OS version is installed.

The average accounting firm staff member uses more than 20 apps across their working and personal lives. Although it’s tempting to use the same password for every app or software log-in, using the same password makes it easier for cyber criminals to access your systems.

Instead, follow good password practices by including a combination of lower and upper case letters and special characters and using a different password on every account.

Always Backup Your Data

Accountants have been among the early adopters of internet browser-based cloud technologies. While cloud-storage can greatly improve efficiency and convenience, it comes with some disadvantages. Backup important data so you’re never lose important information as a result of a ransomware attack.

Some companies choose to use a combination of cloud-based services and traditional hard copy or to back up data in a cloud-based space away from the offices. But be sure to keep back-ups separate from your IT systems.

Ask for Help

According to research, 95% of cybersecurity breaches are due to human error. Cybercriminals will find the weakest link in your accountancy firm and then leverage this link to get into your corporate systems. So, it’s important to create a company culture that avoids online risks and actively encourages employees to be vigilant.

How To Protect Clients From Cyber Crimes

We've covered how accountants can keep their personal and company's information safe, but it’s equally critical for accountants to keep clients' personal data safe from cybercriminals. Here are some ways you can protect your clients against cyber crimes:

Enforce a Solid Password Policy

Strong passwords are critical to safely storing data online. Create - and enforce - a password policy that mandates strong and unique passwords.

Require all clients to use long passphrases with a variation of lower case, uppercase and special characters to make them difficult to crack. Also ask your clients to update their passwords periodically, require new passwords that do not resemble the previous ones, and prohibit the sharing of passwords.

Have a Data Breach Response Plan

If the worst happens and clients' data is stolen or compromised in any way, accountancy firms must have a clear plan in place.

The data breach response plan should detail the steps accountants will take if a breach should occur, including contacting law enforcement, notifying clients, and any other notifications required by state and federal law.

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