Remote working has become a norm for businesses around the globe since 2020. The same applies to the accounting sector, where accountants from one company can be working from different cities and even countries.
Accountants, therefore, need to access critical accountancy data and financial records from outside the office. Unless done right, this can create several vulnerabilities to invite cyber threats that are growing since the pandemic.
This leads to some pressing questions:
- How can a business facilitate remote accounting and protect financial data?
- How can businesses ensure their files are accessed only by their accountants and no one else?
- How can organizations make sure there are no data leaks?
We explain and address these problems and more in this blog. So read on to learn how you can future-proof the security of your accounting systems in an ever-changing business world.
Why Security is the Top Priority for Remote Teams
Every business needs to gear up its security protocols to protect data and networks. The same is true for remote accounting and Finance departments.
Here are a few common types of security risks associated with remote access:
- Virus or Malware: Malware includes a range of programs that perform malicious tasks like spying on your data or giving cybercriminals access to your systems. Malware can contain viruses, Trojans, spyware, and more. It only takes a few moments to check for malware on your Mac (or your Desktop / Android device) and use any number of antivirus programs to help protect your data.
- Backdoors: Backdoors are entry points in your systems attackers use to gain entry. Backdoors can be created by loopholes like outdated software or weak passwords.
- Phishing: Cybercriminals can trick your employees into revealing sensitive information by filling up a fake form. They generally send emails with links that impersonate trusted sources like your bank. Even the IRS has issued a warning in February 2021 to alert tax professionals of such attempts.
- Social Engineering: Social media can reveal a lot of information about a person. Our Facebook profiles can give out personal information like our anniversary dates, birth dates, schools we studied in, and more. Cybercriminals can use this information to guess passwords to access accounts.
- SQL Injection: Servers use databases like SQL that can become a target of cybercrime. Attackers can inject malicious code into SQL to access or edit your data. However, criminals need a security gap in your application to launch a SQL attack.
3 times the Accounting Sector Faced Cyber Attacks
From data breaches to phishing, cyber-attacks on accounting teams are growing since the pandemic. Let’s take a look at some of the significant incidents that happened recently:
Ransomware Hits Albany’s Largest Accounting Firm
BST & Co. experienced a massive ransomware attack in December 2020. A virus compromised their systems and blocked access to sensitive files. The company quickly restored its systems, but the harm was already done.
The attacker exposed data of some of its clients, including their names, billing codes, and insurance details.
Leading Canadian Accounting Firm Goes Down
MNP, a leading Canadian accounting firm, had to suspend its operations due to a ransomware attack in 2020. The attack compromised systems across its 80 offices that remained closed for a week.
The company had to suspend all work and secure all employee devices before going online. So, naturally, the incident resulted in a loss of thousands of dollars.
Spyware Attack on Chinese Tax Software
In July 2020, cybercriminals compromised different versions of Chinese tax software used by several clients. The list included businesses from the USA that had links with the US defense sector.
The attackers used malware to gain access to company networks and data. The incident highlighted the vulnerability of accounting tools to cybercrime and the need for resilience.
Top 6 Cybersecurity Steps to Protect Your Work and Accountancy Data under a Hybrid Work Environment
Businesses are looking to adopt a hybrid working model post-COVID. As a result, work from home security is as vital as workplace security for data protection. You can try the following steps to secure and aim for data loss prevention:
Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
MFA or 2-factor authentication is a simple way to secure your accounts and networks. Most of us have used MFA when we log in to our online bank accounts. MFA secures your accounts by validating your login request with an OTP or PIN. So, you’re using MFA when you enter the PIN sent by text to your phone to sign into net banking.
Businesses can do the same for their email accounts, SaaS accounts, and any portals storing accountancy data. This adds an extra layer of security and prevents any unauthorized access.
Most services today come with inbuilt options to activate MFA. First, you need to access your settings and look under MFA/2FA or authentication options. Do this for all your remote employees, whether they are an accountant or a sales rep.
Network security is a vast area and deals with securing your networks and connections. Therefore, it includes your WiFi, routers, WAN, LAN, and so on.
You can take several steps to secure your network:
- Install SSL certificate to secure the data travels between the server and the client. To do so, you need to search for single domain , multi domain or buy wildcard SSL certificate. Out of these you can choose any SSL cert as per website's structure.
- Installing a good antivirus software and firewalls
- Using strong passwords for your routers (combination of numbers, upper and lower cases, symbols)
- Limiting access to trusted or authorized devices only
- Securing your applications and IT infrastructure
- Setting up intrusion prevention systems
You will need to consider your network and its components to devise a sound network security plan. The aim should be to close all loopholes cybercriminals can exploit to gain entry to your network.
Most businesses have moved to use a cloud-based accounting solution. The switch to the cloud, for instance like hosting QuickBooks in the cloud is a step in the right direction to secure your accounting data. You can hand over the primary responsibility of providing security to your vendor and get an assured degree of protection.
However, you should look to protect all your cloud environments and applications, even if it’s an expense management tool. That means securing your servers, hardware, software, operating systems, and even processes.
The model of cloud computing you use will determine the exact steps you need to take. Sometimes, businesses do not have control over components like hard disks or SaaS applications.
So, work out your strategy carefully and pick software vendors accordingly.
Encryption goes a long way to secure your financial data and networks. You can use a VPN to encrypt the data that you exchange over the internet. VPNs or Virtual Private Networks are like opaque tunnels that pass your data to avoid prying eyes.
Technically, VPNs redirect your data through multiple remote servers to hide your IP address. This results in VPNs turning your data into unreadable forms that can be decoded. As a result, a cybercriminal cannot decipher your data or even gain access to your network.
Businesses should always use a paid and reliable VPN for their accounting team. Free solutions don’t owe you anything and carry a high degree of risk. Additionally, you can hire an offshore developer to provide tech support and set up your data protection and data loss prevention systems.
A great way to secure your accounting data while working remotely is to look into proxy providers. Using a proxy ensures that you have a secure connection to your data while being able to work from anywhere. A proxy simply creates a 'middle man' between you and your server so no one can intercept the traffic going to and from your device.
Security Training for Employees
Human error is one of the biggest causes of data loss and breaches. A single employee can click on a phishing link and put the whole business at risk. As a result, your security initiatives should start with educating your employees.
You should train your accountants on the best practices of cybersecurity and how to stay safe on the internet. They should also learn how to use MFA and stay away from suspicious baits like malicious emails.
Businesses can also work with cybersecurity firms to implement training. Several online resources also exist to help you deliver training in digital and digestible forms.
Remote work brings with itself a range of security concerns. From ransomware to phishing, your accountancy data can be open to several threats. Therefore, when your business goes remote, you should prioritize security and start protecting your company data. Start with MFA and encryption, securing your cloud environments and each network that links to your business. Last but not least, train your accountants to stay safe online.