Coronavirus, security – and your accountancy practicePublished on 30th April 2020 2020-04-30T11:00:00+00:00 - Last update on 2nd May 2020 2020-05-02T14:14:32+00:00
As an accountant, you deal with sensitive financial information, and frequently with large sums of cash on behalf of your clients. Large sums may pass through your practice when there is a large tax bill to be paid on a client's behalf. Security is always a responsibility for you and your practice.
Under normal working conditions, you will have procedures in place to safeguard clients' – and your own – money and data.
But we are not operating in anything like normal business conditions. The coronavirus crisis has forced most accountants into remote working. As a result, we are depending on technology – the internet and to some extend mobile phones – to take care of routine tasks. There has been a huge increase in the number of emails being sent globally.
But the potential of this situation has not been ignored by criminals. As a result, cybercrime has skyrocketed and the simple fact is that you and your practice are potential victims. It could mean financial losses which your practice will be liable for, and even if the bank is able to recompense sums lost, it will certainly damage your relationship with clients.
Security is your concern
Cybersecurity experts estimate that as many as one in five small businesses are not using any form of endpoint security to protect themselves or those that they do business with.
Security is essential.
It is relatively simple for a moderately knowledgeable criminal to intercept your email traffic and read everything, including passwords, usernames, and bank details.
Someone with a little more experience can use the security holes created by that email traffic to access your practice network, and even all the sensitive data that it contains. This is where the greatest danger may lie. Once they have gained access to your systems, hackers have many opportunities for creating problems for you and your clients. Stealing data may be simple, and siphoning off funds by redirecting payments can be very hard to detect until the damage is done.
Matters are not confined to money. A data breach could result in a large fine from the data commissioner, and reputational damage which might be difficult to recover from.
You need a VPN
A VPN, or virtual private network, should be your first line of defence. It is a system that acts as an encrypted tunnel between a device and your network and can keep your messaging safe and secure away from prying eyes.
It runs on the internet - no dedicated phone lines or other hardware are required - but it uses encryption to ensure that your messages and data remain private.
They can be relatively easy to set up and, although there will be some costs and complications, you might find that they are well worth the investment and make little difference to the way you access your network. If you are providing remote access for your team, you should consider them essential.
It can offer an additional layer of security for many kinds of internet traffic. However, while VPNs can be extremely helpful they should not be your only protection.
Your business is still at risk from incoming and outgoing emails which link to outside parties. It is possible for technically skilled people to hide various types of computer code in innocent-looking communications. The days of the simple virus – which can cause your equipment to malfunction – are probably over. These days, they have been replaced by the most sophisticated payloads such as trojans, which operate behind such things as images and attachments, and which covertly install software on your computers.
They can monitor your actions, and can even be set up to report interesting data – such as bank details – back to their originator.
These short pieces of code, collectively known as malware, can be almost impossible to detect. A commercial-grade anti-malware program needs to be installed on all of the devices you use to connect to your network. It is easy enough to ensure this when it is a laptop or other device issued by your firm, but problems may come if someone uses a personal device such as a smartphone to connect – a problem that is becoming all the more common in the current lockdown.
How does your network handle data?
Protecting your business may mean more than protecting your network from unauthorised access. You may need to look at the way your network functions. With working from home now ubiquitous, there could be multiple copies of key data on home machines.
Multiple copies of files will inevitably mean errors creeping in. If not all of your team will see the same data, your business could be heading for a meltdown as errors start to manifest themselves and your standards of client service are compromised.
You may need to invest in overhauling your entire IT systems.
What about the cost?
Around 20% of SME owners report being hit with a data breach or cyberattack each year – and many more may be the victims of cyberintrusions that they don’t know about.
The costs are hard to calculate. Once identified it may cost valuable time and money simply to recover data. The effect on your practice’s reputation if a client’s money is lost or diverted can be much more damaging.
Of course, during a financially challenging time, some firms may baulk at the cost of bringing in extra security systems. But the cost of a data breach - in fines and the loss of professional reputation - could far outweigh the cost of putting proper protection in place.
IT has become key to every business function, and ensuring that you have the network, the security and the equipment you need is vital - whether or not we are in the middle of a crisis.
Getting expert support from an IT specialist who is familiar with the needs of the accounting sector may be essential. They should be able to help you have a secure network that is safe from prying eyes, but easy for your team to use - wherever they are working.
Of course, setting up a secure new network and migrating your data, setting up a VPN and bringing new laptops and other devices will mean costs. How much you will need to spend will depend on the scale of your practice.
At Rangewell we help secure all types of funding for all types of business. During the current crisis, we can provide the quickest way to find the funding you need and to get it for less.
By approaching an IT specialist and then calling on us, you can get the systems you need - while paying less for the funding you need to provide it.
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