Top Cybersecurity Considerations for Accountancy Firms
Cybersecurity is arguably the most pressing concern for businesses operating today. This is especially true for the finance and accountancy industry. Financial data could be compromised due to data breaches, and operational downtime caused by cyber-attacks could be costly for accountancy firms. In fact, IBM estimates that the average cost of a data leak is an eye-watering $4.24 million.
Why are accountancy firms such a lucrative target for cybercriminals? What cyber threats should you be aware of? How can accountants protect themselves from threats online? This article will tell you all you need to know about cybersecurity for accountants.
Why are accountancy firms an attractive target for cybercriminals?
Cybercriminals target accountancy businesses for two reasons: money and financial data.
Firstly, accountants and finance officers handle large sums of money – providing many opportunities for criminals to intercept lots of cash. Secondly, criminals want to steal sensitive financial data from your clients, including tax returns, financial statements, and confidential business information. This information can be used to commit fraud, fuel insider attacks or even blackmail your firm by threatening to release sensitive details.
What cybersecurity threats do accountants face?
Here are some common cyber threats that your accountancy firm should watch out for:
Ransomware is a type of malicious software that encrypts a victim’s files and demands payment in exchange for the decryption key. There are three main entry points for ransomware attacks:
- Malicious software (malware) downloaded from the internet: Hackers can hide ransomware in downloads, such as app installers or archive files. Anti-malware software can protect you from these, but it’s best practice to only download files from sites you trust.
- Malicious email attachments: Attackers often send emails with malicious attachments disguised as legitimate files, such as invoices, resumes, or software updates. Email filters can quarantine these emails for you, but we recommend only opening files from senders you trust.
- Insider attacks or physical downloads: This involves someone plugging in a device – such as a USB flash drive – and transferring the software in person. Unlocked, unattended systems in public areas are a common weak point for this kind of attack.
Once a computer is infected, the ransomware can spread to other systems on your network. Once your system has been infected, the software will encrypt your files. Attackers will then ask for payment – usually by cryptocurrency – in exchange for unlocking your files.
Is it possible to decrypt ransomware files? It depends on the type of encryption algorithm the attacker uses – and it’s extremely difficult to determine the type. Some decryption tools exist for common attacks, but it’s usually much safer to restore your data from a backup.
We strongly advise against paying a ransom. There’s no guarantee that your files will be decrypted once you pay up, and your systems will still be infected with the malware. If you do fall victim to a ransomware attack, get in touch with a security expert as soon as possible.
As mentioned previously, accountants are targeted by cybercriminals as they handle financial data. This information could be used to defraud your clients, steal money, and cause reputational damage to your partners.
Data breaches can occur through several means, including:
- Hacking and network penetration: Attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in your network infrastructure to access files or intercept communications.
- Unsecured data storage: Storing sensitive information in unencrypted databases or cloud storage can leave it vulnerable to theft or loss.
- Physical theft: Laptops, phones, and other devices containing sensitive information can be lost or stolen. Devices could also be accessed if they’re left unattended.
- Malware: Malicious software, such as viruses, Trojans, and ransomware, can infect a computer or network and compromise confidential information.
The increase in remote working has caused more data security issues for accountancy firms. Accountants may be accessing client data from unsecured networks, making it easier for hackers to steal sensitive information.
Another issue is the use of personal devices in the workplace. A study by Yubico found that 43% of employees use their personal devices for work without permission from their employers. Personal devices may not have the same security tools and measures as work devices, and can more easily be lost or stolen.
Phishing attacks are fraudulent attempts to steal sensitive information, such as passwords and credit card numbers, by pretending to be someone you trust. This is typically done through emails or messages that appear to be from a reputable source, but contain links to fake websites or contain attachments that install malware on the recipient’s computer.
Accountants can fall victim to these attacks if criminals pretend to be clients, colleagues payment providers or banks. To reduce the risk of falling for a phishing attack, accountants should be trained to recognise scams, avoid clicking on suspicious links or downloading attachments from unknown sources, and verify the authenticity of emails or messages before taking any action.
How to protect your accountancy firm from cyber attacks
To keep your accountancy firm safe, you’ll need to implement a complete cybersecurity strategy that keeps you prepared for any attack. Here are some helpful best practices to get you started:
- Train employees: Regularly train employees on cyber security best practices, such as how to recognise and avoid phishing scams, and the importance of keeping software and systems up to date.
- Implement strong passwords: Encourage employees to use strong, unique passwords and to regularly change them.
- Keep software and systems updated: Regularly update software and systems, including antivirus and anti-malware software, to protect against known vulnerabilities.
- Implement firewalls: Use firewalls to block unauthorised access to the company’s network and systems.
- Conduct regular backups: Regularly back up important data to protect against data loss in the event of a cyber attack.
- Monitor network activity: Monitor network activity for suspicious behaviour, such as unauthorised access or unusual data transfers. We recommend using a Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tool to do this.
By taking these steps, you can reduce the risk of your firm falling victim to a cyberattack and protect your clients’ sensitive financial information.
Implement your cybersecurity strategy with a trusted expert
Cybersecurity is a long and complicated process. However, the potential ROI in avoided costs is astronomical. Investment in your security infrastructure can help keep your data safe and avoid costly attacks.
We highly recommend working with a trusted security expert when planning out your cybersecurity strategy. Need some help protecting your accountancy firm?
The experts at Extech Cloud can run a full security audit on your network to find vulnerabilities, configure firewalls, antiviruses and other security software and even help you train your staff to be aware of potential threats.
If you have a small to medium sized accountancy firm in Burgess Hill, Crawley, Brighton, or across Sussex and Surrey, we are here to support you. Contact us today to discover more about cybersecurity for accountancy firms, and to speak with a specialist.
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