Accounting firms handle a lot of personal and financial information, which makes them an attractive target for cyber criminals. According to IBM, the average data breach costs $8.64 million in the United States and takes 280 days to identify and contain. Even a small data breach can prove to be expensive and devastating to your reputation.

Let’s take a look at five ways that accounting firms can improve their cybersecurity and safeguard information—and why cloud-based solutions provide an ideal fix.

Cybersecurity has become a major risk for accounting firms across the country, but a handful of best practices can help you stay secure.

#1. Antivirus

There are more than 350,000 new malicious programs (malware) and potential unwanted applications (PUA) released every day, according to the AV-TEST Institute, including ransomware that has become increasingly popular. While almost 90% of malware targets Windows, macOS, Android and iOS devices aren’t immune.

Antivirus software is designed to protect against known and probable threats. While Windows ships with Microsoft Defender Antivirus, businesses should consider a more robust solution that handles endpoints and manages vulnerabilities. It’s equally important to ensure that antivirus solutions are kept up-to-date and run on a regular interval to be effective.

In addition to company devices, businesses should ensure that employee-owned devices that are used for work are secure. You may want to provide employees with antivirus licenses for their personal computers and laptops, as well as ensure that their mobile devices are secured before allowing them to be used for work-related purposes.

Try: Norton, McAfee

#2. Network Security

Most phishing, malware and other cybercrime enters a business through its network. By installing an effective gateway, you can stop these threats at the door without having to rely on device-level security. A firewall monitors incoming and outgoing traffic while using network-level anti-malware software to block dangerous websites and phishing emails.

Businesses with remote workers should also ensure that devices outside of the network don’t pose a threat by using virtual private networks, or VPNs. By creating an encrypted tunnel between a remote computer and an internal network, VPNs eliminate the risk of a man-in-the-middle attack that can result in stolen passwords and backdoor network access.

Businesses should also ensure that their WiFi networks are secure. If clients require Internet access, create a guest network with limited privileges to provide them access to the Internet rather than letting them use the internal network. Internal WiFi networks should be secured with WPA encryption to avoid impersonation from WiFi Pineapples and other devices.

Try: Cisco, FireEye

#3. Encryption

Encryption can mitigate the impact of a data breach. If a cybercriminal steals encrypted data, there is no risk to the client because the data is unreadable. If a business has regular backups, they can simply fix the security vulnerability, restore the backups and go about their business without worrying that sensitive data has fallen into malicious hands.

In addition to encryption for data at rest, businesses should ensure that data is encrypted in transit. Never send sensitive information as unencrypted email attachments or use unencrypted HTTP connections (use HTTPS instead). These efforts ensure that data cannot be stolen in transit and/or encrypt the data in case it’s stolen in transit to make it unreadable.

Cloud-based platforms are one of the best ways to secure data through encryption and regular backups. For example, Client Hub enables clients to upload documents to a secure file storage that’s encrypted and backed up on a regular basis. You don’t have to worry about stolen files from emails or servers while backups can resolve any disruptions.

Try: Client Hub, Tresorit

#4. Strong Passwords

More than 80% of data breaches occur due to poor password security, according to ID Agent, while 60% of people regularly reuse passwords across multiple sites. While it’s unrealistic to memorize hundreds of unique passwords, password managers make it easy to generate strong passwords for each website and auto-fill them in your browser.

While strong passwords greatly reduce the risk of attack, multi-factor authentication (MFA) virtually eliminates risk. Most websites support two-factor authentication with Microsoft or Google authentication apps, but the best security comes from hardware keys that must be physically connected to a device to authenticate a user, making attacks nearly impossible.

If passwords need to be shared between team members, consider using a team password manager that makes the process a lot more secure. Even better, try to use services that enable you to generate different user accounts rather than having multiple users use the same sign in. That way, it’s easier to prevent and track down vulnerabilities.

Try: 1Password, Yubico

#5. Employee Training

The most advanced cybersecurity technologies in the world are useless if they aren’t properly used. Employee training is a critical and often-neglected part of a strong overall cybersecurity plan. In particular, employees should be able to recognize and avoid malware and phishing scams, as well as use strong passwords, MFA and other tools to enhance security.

Oftentimes, cybersecurity issues are the responsibility of a Chief Technical Officer (CTO) or a dedicated Chief Information Security Officer (CISO). Small businesses that don’t have the resources for a dedicated point person may want to consider Virtual CTOs or CISOs, which provide executive-level service at a fraction of the cost.

If a data breach does occur, business should have an action plan in place to address it. These plans should include detailed steps to identify and mitigate the vulnerability, restore backups, notify the authorities and notify any affected customers. They should also appoint a point person that can coordinate the response to ensure that it goes smoothly.

Try: CISA, Fractional CISO

How Cloud Solutions Can Help

Cloud-based solutions address many of these cybersecurity concerns without the need for an IT department to build and maintain a secure network. Rather than storing sensitive materials on-site, cloud-based solutions enable you to store them in the cloud where they are protected with industry-leading network security, automatically encrypted and regularly backed up.

Client Hub makes it easy to securely share files with clients. Source: Client Hub

Client Hub provides every tool that accountants and bookkeepers require on a day-to-day basis within a single secure platform. Accounting professionals can create recurring jobs and checklists for their day-to-day while clients can communicate through an easy-to-use web or mobile app, upload their files to share them and integrate their QuickBooks accounts.

Try Client Hub for free!

The Bottom Line

Cybersecurity is becoming increasingly important as more bookkeeping-related tasks move online, employees work remotely and cybercriminals level up their technology. By adhering to these five best practices, you can reduce cybersecurity risks in your business and ensure that client data remains safe and secure from attackers.