I have put the link to the full article at the bottom but here are Six steps to keep your data safe.
Although details may vary between packages, anti-virus software scans files or computer’s memory for certain patterns that may indicate the presence of malicious software (i.e., malware). Anti-virus software (sometimes more broadly referred to as anti-malware software) looks for patterns based on the signatures or definitions of known malware. Anti-virus vendors find new and updated malware daily, so it is important that users have the latest updates installed on their computer, according to the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), a division of the Department of Homeland Security.
Once users have installed an anti-virus package, they should scan their entire computer periodically:
- Automatic scans – Most anti-virus software can be configured to automatically scan specific files or directories in real time and prompt users at set intervals to perform complete scans.
- Manual scans – If the anti-virus software does not automatically scan new files, users should manually scan files and media received from an outside source before opening them. This process includes:
Firewalls provide protection against outside attackers by shielding your computer or network from malicious or unnecessary network traffic and preventing malicious software from accessing the network. Firewalls can be configured to block data from certain locations or applications while allowing relevant and necessary data through, according to US-CERT.
- Hardware – Typically called network firewalls, these external devices are positioned between a computer and the internet (or other network connection). Many vendors and some internet service providers (ISPs) offer integrated small office / home office (SOHO) routers that also include firewall features. Hardware-based firewalls are particularly useful for protecting multiple computers and control the network activity that attempts to pass through them. The advantage of hardware-based firewalls is that they are separate devices running their own operating systems, so they provide an additional line of defense against attacks when compared to system or host-level protections.
- Software – Most operating systems include a built-in firewall feature that should be enabled for added protection even if using an external firewall. Firewall software can also be obtained as separate software from a local computer store, software vendor or ISP. If downloading firewall software from the internet, make sure it is from a reputable source (i.e., an established software vendor or service provider) and offered via a secure site.
The Security Summit reminds tax pros that anti-virus software and firewalls cannot protect data if computer users fall for email phishing scams and divulge sensitive data, such as usernames and passwords. The user, not the software, is the first-line of defense in protecting taxpayer data.
Many email providers now offer customers two-factor authentication protections to access email accounts. Tax professionals should always use this option to prevent their accounts from being taken over by cybercriminals and putting their clients and colleagues at risk.
Two-factor authentication helps by adding an extra layer of protection. Often two-factor authentication means the returning user must enter credentials (username and password) plus another step such as entering a security code sent via text to a mobile phone. The idea is a thief may be able to steal the username and password but it’s highly unlikely they also would have a user’s mobile phone to receive a security code and complete the process.
The use of two-factor authentication and even three-factor authentication is on the rise, and tax preparers should always opt for a multi-factor authentication protection when it is offered, whether on an email account or tax software account or any password-protected product. IRS Secure Access, which protects IRS.gov tools including e-Services, is an example of two-factor authentication. Check email account settings to see if the email provider offers two-factor protections.
Critical files on computers should routinely be backed up to external sources. This means a copy of the file is made and stored either online as part of a cloud storage service or similar product. Or, a copy of the file is made to an external disk, such as an external hard drive that now comes with multiple terabytes of storage capacity. Tax professionals should ensure that taxpayer data that is backed up also is encrypted.
Given the sensitive client data maintained on tax practitioners’ computers, users should consider drive encryption software for full-disk encryption. Drive encryption, or disk encryption, transforms data on the computer into unreadable files for the unauthorized person accessing the computer. Drive encryption may come as a stand-alone security software product. It may also include encryption for removable media, such as a thumb drive and its data.
Data security plan
The Security Summit also reminds tax professionals of several other important steps. All professional tax return preparers must have a written data security plan as required by the Federal Trade Commission and its Safeguards Rule. Tax professionals also can get help with security recommendations and creating a data security plan by reviewing the recently revised IRS Publication 4557, Safeguarding Taxpayer Data, and Small Business Information Security: the Fundamentals by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Publication 5293, Data Security Resource Guide for Tax Professionals, provides a compilation data theft information available on IRS.gov. Also, tax professionals should stay connected to the IRS through subscriptions to e-News for Tax Professionals, QuickAlerts and Social Media.