According to security experts, tax preparers are a special target for cybercriminals. Tax preparers make perfect targets because their hard drives hum with “personal identifiable information” – such as scans of clients’ driver’s licenses, W-2s and previous years’ returns – that cybercriminals want.
Preparers are obligated to protect access to this information, as well as ensure that the data isn’t modified or damaged – but that can be difficult, particularly for smaller practices. Cybercrime’s global economic impact has reached $1 trillion and spawned a sophisticated industry that is learning to steal more effectively from corporations and Main Street alike.
Globally, cybercrime now incorporates training, start-up kits and percentage programs for various levels of thieves. Cybercrooks, particularly those infecting victims’ computers with ransomware and demanding Bitcoin payment to release a victim company’s own information, can work far below the headline-making breaches of Yahoo or Scottrade. Crooks can demand just a few thousand dollars, which many small businesses often pay just to get back in operation.
Aside from up-to-date anti-virus software, attention to security updates and patches, and password sophistication, tax prep firms should prepare for data breaches with a security incident response plan – which should be revisited as frequently as a company’s general business plan, suggests Jake Solis, CEO of the IT consultancy 1+1 Technology.
A firm’s response plan should cover:
After a breach, firms should isolate the devices affected, gather computer activity logs, notify key personnel (including lawyers) and document the breach as much as possible, among other steps.
There are a few key questions firms should consider in the wake of a breach, Solis suggests: What was the source or abilities of the attacker or application? What did the attacker hope to achieve? And how can the firm prevent it happening again?
Solis urges tax preparers to consider the ramifications of a breach in an industry built on trust. “Do you think clients will do taxes with you again” after an undefended breach?” he asked. “Do you think word won’t spread about what happened to your business?”