Over the past year we saw a record-breaking high of 1,579 data breaches, as such accounting firm leadership around the world have security vulnerabilities first on their agenda.
But when practices across the globe collect and store both firm and client data, how can you be sure your organization won’t be next? In short, protecting against a data breach requires a significant amount of planning and resources. If you don’t know where to begin, we suggest that you first understand the top three security vulnerabilities that every accounting firm innately has:
1. Sensitive data is a target for hackers and malware
In 2017, we saw an almost 300% growth in global ransomware, which is malicious software that takes control of your computer until you “ransom” your data from the hacker that attacks the technology infrastructure of businesses of any size. Between attacks on Equifax (145 million people), Uber (57 million people), WannaCry (300,000 systems around the world) and Yahoo (3 billion accounts), it’s clear the threat of hackers and malware on sensitive data is only growing.
To avoid being the next victim, it’s critical that organizations stay on top of all operating system patches, including patches on software or apps that store data, like Google Chrome. We also encourage organizations to utilize endpoint antivirus applications that have the ability to communicate with edge network devices (firewalls/network). This will limit the inconsistency in the security of different devices and make it more difficult for hackers to find a vulnerability.
2. Employees are your main threat
No business wants to consider that its employees could be a source of security vulnerability, but it’s true. In 2016, 77% of data breaches involved an insider, which means even the most careful allocation of access and permissions can be compromised through employee negligence and sabotage.
Another complication is the increase in bring-your-own-device (BYOD) environments. Seventy-four percent of organizations either use or are adopting BYOD policies, which introduces a loss of control, standardization and compliance plus it creates a more complex security environment for your IT partner to manage.
*Introducing BYOD to your firm? Resource: Avoid These Common BYOD Policy Mistakes
Minimizing this risk requires the creation of a unique security strategy that aligns with your long-term business goals: consider restricting the types of apps allowed on employee devices or getting consent to use a Mobile Device Management software (MDM) and educate your employees on security best practices with thorough onboarding and training.
3. Your organization hasn’t had a full risk assessment
The final threat to your accounting firm’s security is that most accounting firms don’t have a clear picture of the vulnerabilities that present the largest security threats to their organization. Less than 40% of organizations have conducted full-network active vulnerability scans more than once per quarter – a sure sign that the first step in addressing these vulnerabilities and building an overall IT strategy is to perform a full risk assessment.
In a risk assessment, you’ll receive a detailed report answering questions such as:
Asset list of all internal/locally stored data
Asset list with locations of all cloud based data storage for both firm and clients
Value of data sources
Redundancy of both local and cloud based storage/software systems
Update policies of both local and cloud based storage/software systems
What would happen if either data sources were damaged or lost?
What are our system’s most significant threats and vulnerabilities?
What’s the best way to minimize exposure to these threats and vulnerabilities?
Resolution plan should a breach occur
Securing your firm’s and your client’s data is not something that can be completed with one action or one decision; it’s an ongoing process that must be reviewed and updated regularly. This is why it’s so important that accounting firms take a comprehensive approach to designing and implementing an IT strategy that takes these changes into account and starts with a comprehensive risk assessment.
In short, the next time you read about an enormous security breach in the news, you’ll rest easy knowing you’ve taken every precaution to protect your organization from these common vulnerabilities.
We're proud to present the Technology Strategy series in association with AbacusNext who share our commitment to helping firms adjust to the digital world as safely as possible. AbacusNext provides a suite of best of breed services to accountants including OfficeTools Practice Management, Results CRM, and Abacus Private Cloud.