Protecting clients’ sensitive financial information is of utmost importance for tax preparers. Safeguarding this data requires a combination of technological measures, best practices, and an understanding of potential risks. At PSTAP, our members receive a Verifyle Pro™ data security account, at no cost to them, to help them easily and seamlessly protect their clients’ most sensitive information.
Steps to Protect Client Data
Protecting your information from data theft or data leakage requires a multi-pronged approach. Cyber thieves are motivated to get your clients’ data and will constantly develop new ways to get around your security, so you’ll need to be constantly updating your methods.
Take these important steps in your CPA, bookkeeping, tax preparation, or financial planning practice to secure your clients’ sensitive financial information:
- Familiarize yourself with relevant data protection regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and ensure compliance with the requirements. This includes obtaining necessary consent and implementing appropriate data-handling practices.
- Assess your sensitive data by inventorying all computers and other devices as well as file cabinets and storage areas. Any employees who work from home will also need to complete this process in their home office and their personal technology. Determine what needs to be kept and what needs to be properly disposed of, according to regulations.
- Determine how sensitive data comes into your office – Electronically? Physically? Via phone, call center, contractors, employees who work from home? All electronic or online methods must be carefully analyzed for cybersafety and all unsafe methods eliminated.
- Educate yourself and your employees on identifying suspicious emails, phishing scams, and potential data breaches and on the proper handling of client data. Develop written security protocols and procedures and update them regularly. Conduct periodic security assessments and audits to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in your workflow.
- Limit the number of people who have access to sensitive information or passwords. Passwords should include a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Encourage employees and clients to use unique passwords for each account and to regularly update them.
- Implement high-level, up-to-date data security systems that include firewalls and anti-virus and anti-spyware programs. Institute secure systems of data transfer to and from clients so that no sensitive information is shared via unsafe services. These safety systems must include:
- Robust encryption to protect sensitive data both in transit and at rest. This ensures that even if unauthorized individuals gain access to the data, they cannot decipher or exploit it.
- Data stored securely in encrypted databases or on servers that have appropriate access controls.
- Minimum two-factor authentication (2FA) for all accounts accessing sensitive data. 2FA adds an extra layer of security by requiring additional verification beyond just a password, such as a unique code sent to a mobile device.
- Restricted access to sensitive information on a need-to-know basis.
- Secure communication channels for transmitting sensitive data. Encrypted communication services ensure the confidentiality and integrity of client communications.
- And as a member of PSTAP, you get your own Verifyle Pro™ account completely free. Using Verifyle™ to share documents and messages back and forth with your clients provides all the protections listed in step 6 for your data transfer.
Verifyle™ goes even further, by providing a 6-step verification process while still only requiring a single password. Every document, conversation, or note is encrypted separately, thus providing maximum protection, because cyber-thieves are unable to access multiple items of information in a given hack. To access your free Verifyle Pro™ account, all you have to do is sign up with the email address PSTAP has on file for you at www.verifyle.com/PSTAP.
By implementing these best practices, tax preparers can significantly enhance the security of their clients’ sensitive financial information. Never let your guard down; thieves are looking for the easy hack, so make it as hard for them as possible by staying vigilant and adapting to emerging threats. If you keep your systems and procedures up-to-date with the latest cybersecurity trends and practices, thieves will probably go looking for an easier target.