With tech advances come security threats for accounting firms. Time and again, certified public accountants (CPAs) keep coming under the radar of cyber attackers and ultimately become victims of data breaches.
Hackers target CPAs for the enormous chunk of personally identifiable information (PII) and financial data that the clients have entrusted the accounting companies with. Accountants’ inboxes are filled with links or attachments to invoices. So, it is not hard for a malicious file or link to sneak into the workflow without being noticed.
Data breaches are gaining sophistication and often strike when US CPAs are working at the year-end or when tax return deadlines are due. Above all, each breach leaves a lasting, if not permanent, imprint on an accounting firm’s brand. For instance, a data breach costs businesses $4.24 Mn on average.
Creating a Response Plan as Time is of Essence
Even prominent accounting companies are not immune to the wrath of cyber attackers. Hence, US CPAs must have a plan B in place – recovering as soon as possible – if things go south. With adequate and diligent incident response planning, certified public accountants can implement the recovery process faster and avoid considerable damage.
While devising the response plan, accountants must create responses for a few various levels of data breaches, with comprehensive measures laid out for each sort of breach. This response strategy should underscore the “must-dos” and whom CPAs US must approach after a data breach. It should be a step-wise handbook that guides them on what to do to adhere to the national and state laws and inform those affected about the event.
Assessing the Severity of the Breach
Suppose a PC or other portable web-browsing device is compromised. In that case, US CPAs must identify the resources that might have been affected, and determine if they are protected by encryption or password. They can better consider roping forensic IT experts to ascertain the scope of the issue.
Besides, if there is a possibility of identity theft or other criminal activity, CPAs US need to inform the relevant law enforcement agencies.
Understanding how the data breach occurred helps CPAs USA keep future hackers from using the same tactics and succeeding. Moreover, it is crucial to examine the affected systems to detect any malware possibly left by cyber attackers.
Notifying Potentially Affected Clients
While looking into the data breach, licensed CPAs need to determine all those affected and those that might be. Then, they should inform the potentially impacted authorities, third parties, and clients. As laws decide the time window wherein the breach has to be reported, it is best to do it without delay. CPAs can distribute the notification via mass emails, phone calls, or other communication means.
The warning statement must highlight when the breach occurred, what data was compromised, and what the recipient can do to prevent further damage. Also, this enables accounting companies to preserve their integrity and combat public backlash.
Regular Employee Training
Conducting regular cybersecurity training for all employees is crucial to create a security-conscious culture within the accounting firm. Educating staff about the latest phishing techniques, social engineering tactics, and best practices for data protection can significantly reduce the risk of data breaches caused by human error.
Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
Implementing MFA for accessing sensitive information adds an extra layer of security. By requiring additional verification steps beyond passwords, such as biometrics or one-time passwords, CPAs can prevent unauthorized access even if login credentials are compromised.
Ensuring that sensitive data is encrypted both during transmission and storage provides an additional safeguard against data breaches. Encryption renders the data unreadable to unauthorized individuals, reducing the impact of potential breaches.
Vendor Risk Management
Accounting firms often collaborate with third-party vendors and service providers. It is essential to assess their security protocols and data protection measures to minimize the risk of data breaches arising from vulnerabilities in vendor systems.
Incident Response Testing
Regularly testing the incident response plan through simulated data breach scenarios allows CPAs to identify any gaps or weaknesses in the response strategy. Conducting drills and exercises helps improve the team’s preparedness to handle real-life data breach situations effectively.
Performing Security Audits
After executing the initial recovery steps, a security audit is a must to analyze the accounting firm’s existing security fabric and help with the preparation for future recovery blueprints.
A post-breach audit must investigate the situation and all systems to provide a proposition for deploying new policies and solutions. Regarding a security audit custom, a domain name server (DNS) audit will help safeguard the entire infrastructure and system management – as obsolete DNS servers can broaden the attack surface.
Updating Response Plans for Future Breaches
After being attacked once, the odds of CPAs USA getting the data exposed are sizable. After a data breach and taking appropriate recovery steps, the importance of bracing up for the next attack cannot be stressed enough.
Internal investigation and security audits are crucial. The uncovered information will guide licensed CPAs toward their future response strategy and address any vulnerabilities that may be in ambush.
The new response blueprint must incorporate new privacy regulations, security training for the entire workforce, and enacting decided norms with third parties.
CPAs Must Always Stay Prepared
Cyber attackers are not getting dumber every minute. As the Internet evolves, so are their intrusion techniques. Although people seem to take the news about large-scale data breaches lightly, the privacy of confidential information should be critical to CPAs certified and accounting firms.
Implementing the appropriate procedures and response plans will do wonders. And while no system guarantees 100% protection from all cyberattacks, CPAs need to start somewhere.