Identity thieves commonly target tax professionals to steal taxpayers’ sensitive data, making your work computer your greatest vulnerability. Fortunately, you can take simple security measures to ensure the safety of your computer, your business, and your clients. TaxSlayer Pro offers a number of recommended security practices in line with the IRS’s “Security Six” to help you counter potential threats that could harm your office.
Use antivirus software
Having antivirus software is just the start. You’ll also want to make sure that it’s set to run frequent automatic scans, especially of email attachments, and that the software is up to date against the most common attacks.
According to the IRS, “a strong security package” will have features that help protect you against phishing, one of the most common ways cybercriminals target tax professionals. Be sure to read up on your antivirus software’s features and settings, making sure that it runs frequent scans to protect your computer from malware, spyware, and phishing scams.
Be aware that scammers will often pose as antivirus software providers. The IRS warns tax professionals to never download “free” software from a pop-up and never follow email links that offer anti-spyware software.
Ironically, these false antivirus/ anti-spyware offers may actually be installing the spyware they claim to be eliminating. Learn to recognize the emails of your antivirus software provider, and if an email ever seems suspicious, get in touch with your provider directly.
Finally, be sure to choose a program that won’t interfere with your tax software. While TaxSlayer Pro does not recommend any particular security package, we’ve found that the following antivirus programs tend to work best with TaxSlayer Pro:
- Microsoft’s Windows Defender or Microsoft Security Essentials
- Symantec’s Norton Security or Norton Anti-Virus
- McAfee Anti-Virus or McAfee Total Protection
While firewalls and antivirus software are similar, they aren’t exactly the same – and yes, your computers need to have both. Antivirus software protects your computer from malware, whereas firewalls monitor and filter your network traffic, preventing data from suspicious sources from accessing your systems.
Firewalls come in both hardware and software forms. Hardware firewalls are often included in many internet routers. Many operating systems have built-in firewalls (such as the Windows Firewall), and some antivirus software packages include firewalls as well.
If you aren’t sure if your routers, computers, and security software packages include adequate firewalls, we recommend consulting with an IT professional to be sure.
Use Virtual Private Networks
If you and your employees ever work remotely, a virtual private network (VPN) is a critical part of protecting your computers. VPNs use encryption to offer a secure way for remote employees to access the company’s network.
Finding one that’s reliable doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, the IRS recommends simply searching “Best VPNs” to find one for your business. What’s important is that you have one in place before you or your employees need to access the company network remotely.
Take advantage of two-factor authentication
The IRS advises tax preparers to use two-factor authentication whenever possible, including your email and your tax software. This way, even if your password has been compromised, data thieves will still not be able to access your accounts.
Backup Your Data
The IRS recommends backing up your most critical files, using either a cloud-based storage system or external sources with proper encryption. If you use TaxSlayer Pro Web, your tax files are already automatically backed up in the cloud.
If you use TaxSlayer Pro Premium or Classic, you can follow these steps to ensure your tax software is backed up regularly and securely. Doing so not only protects you from data loss due to power outages or human error, but also protects you from cyberattacks, especially ransomware attacks.
Use drive encryption
Anyone with sensitive data on their computer should consider drive encryption – for tax preparers, it’s an absolute must.
Drive encryption, also called full disk encryption, converts the data on your computer into indecipherable code for anyone without authorized access. When you log in to your computer and enter the proper credentials for your drive encryption, everything will appear normal. However, if your computer is stolen, hacked, or otherwise compromised, the criminal won’t be able to access any of your client’s data, thanks to the encryption. Drive encryption is recommended for your computers and any other external device, such as USBs or external hard drives, that you may use to back up data.
Keep Computers Updated and Run Regular Maintenance
Computers and software that are out of date make you vulnerable to cyberattacks. Older operating systems may not support the latest versions of your antivirus software and other security software, leaving footholds for cybercriminals.
To make sure your office is truly ready for a cyberattack, make sure you have a comprehensive data security plan in place. Our step-by-step Guide to Creating a Data Security Plan for Your Tax Business can get you started.