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What is a VPN? (and 4 reasons why every tax professional should use one)

Practice Management Virtual Private Networks

Even when COVID-19 is manageable and we return to “sort of” business as usual, cybercrime is an issue all of us will continue to face, with the main focus on how we can keep firms and personal information safe online. If you’ve ever so much as glanced at an article about cybersecurity, you’ve probably come across the term “VPN” or virtual private network.

What is a VPN and how can it help you enhance your firm’s digital security? How does it benefit your clients? In this article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about VPN technology and why every tax pro should be using it.

What is a VPN?

The main job of a VPN is to hide the internet protocol (IP) address of the computer network you’re using. An IP address is a unique address that identifies a device – your laptop, computer, or phone, for example – on the internet or on a local network. This IP address is one of the main ways people can identify you and track your activities online.

A VPN masks your real IP address, allowing you to use the IP address of another server maintained by the VPN provider. Essentially, this creates a secure data tunnel between your device and VPN provider at a location that may be thousands of miles away. Consequently, neither your internet service provider nor anyone else can track your online activities. A VPN creates a secure and private network from whatever network you are using.

How can a VPN help you and your firm?

There are several crucial advantages to using a VPN for any type of business, especially tax and accounting professionals.

“Not only does a VPN help you stay safe online and ward off cyberattacks; it also protects your clients,” says Hamed Saeed, CEO of Pango Group, a cybersecurity provider that runs and operates a portfolio of consumer-focused digital privacy and security solutions. “For businesses that rely on trust and discretion in client relationships, a VPN is essential.”

According to Saeed, there are five main things each company needs to know to tighten up its approach to cybersecurity; here is a quick video explaining these.

When it comes to your firm, fraud and security are top of mind. Consider the following four reasons why a VPN is essential.

Reason 1: Guard your privacy. A VPN helps you remain 100% anonymous online. If you search and browse the web without a VPN, your real IP is exposed. There are hundreds of tracking algorithms that keep track of your IP address, and harvest your data for future reference or even for sale. Web browsers, as well as major tracking companies, follow your search behavior and link it to your IP address.

For instance, you might be researching sensitive topics for a client. Without a VPN, your search history could give anyone insights into this research such as your clients’ personal and business issues.

In addition, unless you use a VPN, you will see targeted ads related to your previous searches. At the very least, such targeted ads are a distraction and impair your productivity. At worst, they can give negative impressions to anyone who sees them appear on your screen, from visiting clients to people on a Zoom call.

In the United States, internet service providers have the right to sell your private browsing history, aggravating this problem. In addition, operating without a VPN may also make it harder to find the best deals when purchasing services, subscriptions, or equipment for your firm. It’s common for websites to keep track of visitors who are interested in certain types of products. Then, they hike the prices on those products or services, putting your business at a financial disadvantage.

Reason 2: Protect yourself and clients from cyberattacks, wherever you are. A VPN is that it helps you fend off cyberattacks. Since the start of the pandemic, hackers have been thriving. In a recent article on how to know if your identity was stolen by Aura, an identity theft protection service, 47% of Americans experienced financial identity theft in 2020.

Falling victim to a data breach can be fatal for any kind of business, but especially for those founded on client trust. A data breach can expose your clients’ data to hackers, who will sell it to the highest bidder on the dark web. Imagine having to call a client to tell them that all of their sensitive personal, financial, and tax information is now in the hands of cybercriminals.

It is little wonder that the majority of small businesses never recover after becoming the victim of such an attack; in fact, 60% of them shut down within 6 months. VPNs are invaluable in preventing this type of calamity.

The network you use for your online operations is one of your biggest vulnerabilities, especially if you sometimes use public networks. Whether you’re checking email during your commute or working for an afternoon at a coffee shop, anyone who uses the same network can spy on you with minimal effort. Instead, a VPN secures all of your online operations, providing maximum protection and flexibility to work using whichever network is available.

Think of a VPN as a wall between you and a public domain that is accessible by everyone. For example, there is a very common scam where hackers target a business’ phone system with a large volume of calls and drive up bills for businesses and their clients. Putting a wall of protection on the phone system called a SIP trunking provider helps shield your phone system from this scam. Same thing with a VPN; it is a wall that helps protect you from a number of phishing attacks on public WiFi.

Reason 3: Secure your remote team. Another advantage of VPNs is that they make remote operations easier. If your firm’s team has a hybrid or remote work model, a VPN can help you secure any long-distance traffic.

For instance, people working in a home office can easily access your firm’s server. They can use any specialized software, work with confidential client data, and communicate with others, without being exposed to security risks.

Reason 4: Keep information secure across all of your devices. You probably use a variety of devices in your everyday life for maximum flexibility to work efficiently. However, every device is a potential weak spot – a target for cyber criminals.

Fortunately, a VPN can be deployed across all the devices you use for work and in your personal life. That way, a VPN helps you safeguard your own data and your clients’ data, no matter where you are or on which device you’re working.

Boosting security for your practice and your clients

At its most basic, a VPN is an economical way of maintaining your privacy online and boosting your firm’s cybersecurity. It can help you stay anonymous while browsing, decreases the likelihood of data breaches, and facilitates remote team operations.

Most importantly, it benefits your clients. Their confidential data and personal information will be well protected, which maintains their trust in your discretion and professionalism. The peace of mind this certainty brings is perhaps a VPN’s greatest advantage.