6 Practical Data Security Tips for Accounting Firms

Accounting firms are exposed to significant data security threats. Here are 6 practical tips to keep such threats at bay.

In an age where data is often called the “new oil,” there are key security challenges unique to every industry. Accounting firms have a difficult challenge. Not only do they have to ensure the complete sanctity of their client data and their internal processes, but they must also adhere to regulatory rules and oversight that are more complex and strictly enforced than those of other industries. Add to that a varied workforce and, in some cases, different underlying systems depending on the industry of the specific client, and the job of a security administrator becomes all the more difficult.

Top Accountancy firm Deloitte, which incidentally even boasts of its own CyberIntelligence center was breached by hackers in a sophisticated attack in 2017” – Source: The Guardian

If you have an accounting firm and would like to know what you can do to keep your data safe, here are six practical security tips that can help you set your house in order and avoid data security risks.

  1. Have Clear Policies for All Existing Data Security and Data Protection Measures in Use

First things first— if you operate out of more than one location, you need to get a handle on what protocols are in place and who is in charge. It does not work for two different offices to have two different agencies responsible for data security. This creates confusion, and you risk communication failure and increased downtime when trouble occurs. You need clear lines of responsibility and authority for all security policies and processes.

It is very critical to evaluate the protocols you have in place, looking at apparent areas where there are no guidelines available. If you find this task overwhelming, look into seeking help from a specialized managed I.T. services firm like JMARK. An experienced I.T. service provider will have procedures to help you appraise your security measures in light of the unique makeup of your company as well as your markets and goals.

Next, create a checklist of the measures you have in place and benchmark them based on industry standards. It would also be prudent of you to note the kind of security threats prevalent in your industry and discuss them with peers. Based on your study, create a Standard Operating Procedure for I.T. security—or update the existing one.

  1. Ensure Physical Security

While it may seem obvious, many accounting firms often overlook physical security. To keep the user data safe, you not only need to worry about information security, but also the physical security of your facility, and access control. Even the best firewalls are useless if a malicious individual can walk away with a laptop containing critical data. Apart from making use of options like key cards and visitor logs, you should also have provisions for desk locks where employees can keep their workstations secured for safety. In addition to all this, you should also train your staff to never put any confidential or sensitive information like passwords onto sticky notes. (This may seem like a silly reminder to be making nearly two decades into the new millennium, but sadly, this is still a common sight in many offices.) Access control should be strictly enforced, and data repositories should be off limits for non-essential personnel.

  1. Maintain Proper Security Across all Devices and Solutions

To ensure complete protection, you will have to make sure that proper security is implemented for all user devices and solutions. Take the time to do each of the following things to audit security throughout all your operations:

  • Ensure that the cloud services you are making use of are PCI compliant.
  • Secure your entire infrastructure with business grade firewall, and make sure it is updated on a regular basis.
  • Maintain strong passwords across networks, along with using strong anti-virus solutions.
  • Create clear distinctions between guest networks and internal networks.
  • Put in place standardized email defense software to make sure all email accounts are well protected.
  1. Make Plans for Data Backup and Recovery for Business Continuity

Even if you have implemented all the suggestions given above, you are still vulnerable. There are chances that a breach may occur at any moment. To make sure that you are well prepared to handle such a situation and do not end up losing all your data to a ransomware attack, you should have proper backup and recovery options in place. Once you have these implemented, do not forget to test them regularly to ensure that they are working effectively. Hackers are always working to find new ways to access your network. Since criminals do not rest, neither can your security. If you have implemented a versatile backup and recovery solution, you might just be able to save yourself a lot of trouble.

  1. Keep in Mind How a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Policy Can Affect Data Security

With the proliferation of smartphones, most accounting firms have implemented BYOD policies for mobile devices. There are many advantages to allowing your employees to use their own devices for business purposes; however, you must keep in mind the security implications that come along with mobile access to your network. Do not forget that access to your network means access to sensitive client data. A comprehensive mobile device management (MDM) policy, and accompanying software, can help maintain the integrity of your network. Be sure to:

  • Create a policy that details the circumstances under which employees are allowed to use their own device. Along with this, you should also provide them with clear guidelines to help them understand the risks attached to mobile access.
  • Make use of a thoroughly vetted MDM solution for managing your company data on all personal devices. Enrolling the devices of new hires—and newly acquired devices of everyone—should be a priority from the first day they begin work.
  • Enforce a secure VPN for accessing office servers while working from home networks. This is especially true for teams who collaborate across geographies and time zones with the need to access official data through public networks.
  1. Use Data Encryption

No longer solely the province of spies and special agents, encryption makes your data indecipherable to those who do not have access to it. There are often encryption features built into the core applications you use daily, and you should be making use of them, as this will prevent hackers from making sense of the data even if they get access to it. Data encryption can be helpful for protecting backup disk drives as well, helping to keep all your confidential data safe. Of course, when you are ready to go beyond out-of-the-box solutions, an I.T. service provider can help you take advantage of advanced encryption solutions for your network.

While the tips listed above can serve as a starting point for ensuring data security, they are just that: the starting point. Protecting your data is a continuous endeavor, and you need to dedicate the time and resources to make sure that your accounting firm is secure.

JMARK has an enviable record in securing I.T. systems and networks and has specialized teams with expertise in working in the financial and accounting sectors. We offer a comprehensive set of security solutions ranging from data security to backup and business continuity services. To learn more about how our managed I.T. services can keep your firm safe, contact JMARK today.