With the surge of cloud technology combined with ongoing data security concerns, I find myself constantly working in an atmosphere of paranoia. As my clients’ trusted advisor, I need to do my best to secure their data.
Data is a very broad description of many different components. Financial records can include company accounting books, employee information, credit cards and bank account data, financial statements, tax returns, and much more. Access to hardware – unprotected and without secure login credentials – adds to the volumes of data for which we typically have full access.
As tax season approaches, it is a great time to ramp up our efforts to better educate our clients. There is no better time of year than tax season when you typically have 100 percent of their focus as they begin the process of data collection and data turnover. As clients collect their data to give final information to you for end-of-year processing, which includes wrapping up the books if they are a business and/or tax return preparation, help them understand the importance of security.
We still have clients emailing us their dates of birth and social security numbers by email! Our response is hard and clear – NEVER send that information in an email. That sounds like ABCs and 123s, but we know it happens every day.
Start with the basics. You and your firm should mandate secure data exchange methods. Here are some simple examples:
- Allow access to your data storage solution on the home page of your website.
- Create a simple video showing them how to create their login (less than 30 sec).
- Free is not always the way to go – research document storage and exchange systems before just going after the freebees – you might get what you pay for.
- Ensure that the application requires strong passwords – we know they can get frustrated over passwords but it is so important for security. Tell them it’s as important as oxygen!
- MAKE IT SIMPLE FOR THE CLIENT.
Then of course, encourage your clients to have anti-virus software for their computer. It is not a bad idea to engage with a reputable technology expert to offer your clients. I have never claimed to be a computer expert. So I hire them, just like your clients hire you since they aren’t accounting experts. I am also a huge believer in hosting solutions.
Note, too, that Windows XP and Microsoft Server 2003 are no longer supported.
Data security is critical to our practices and the well-being of our clients. We have the perfect opportunity to educate them here in the next few months!