How to Manage and Protect
Sensitive Tax Information
When it comes to sensitive tax data, secure handling and storage is essential. To help protect this information from hackers and other cyber threats:
- Start with a strong firewall.
- A fully protected network begins with a properly configured firewall and a wireless connection that utilizes the latest encryption methods. Don’t cut corners here! Otherwise, unauthorized individuals can more easily tap into your systems to steal or corrupt data.
- Next, keep anti-virus and anti-malware software up to date.
- This is something many businesses overlook, even after they’ve made the effort to build a strong firewall. Unless you’re staying on top of the latest versions or patches, you could open the door to new scams, phishing attacks and other risks.
- Protect sensitive electronic data beyond your main server.
- Think past your onsite servers and systems. Do your employees conduct business on portable devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops? Install or require security programs with them, too. With many employees using public Wi-Fi with these devices, this precaution is critical. You’ll also want to explore electronic “wiping” programs that delete data from portable devices in case of loss or theft.
- Limit access to the right individuals.
- Only allow approved individuals to access to sensitive data and systems. Require administrator’s logins and set up screen savers that request passwords after a period of inactivity, all of which help keep information out of the wrong hands — from your internal staff to the outside world.
- Reinforce your password procedures.
- In addition to setting up password-required screen savers, encourage the use of complex passwords that are difficult to guess. Strong passwords should be at least eight characters, and consist of a combination of letters, numbers and special characters. Further, employees should vary their passwords among different sites and systems, both personal and professional.
- Secure documents and equipment.
- Although it might not seem as obvious, paper documents can still be the target of security breaches. Lock up documents, files and storage devices (computer disks and flash drives) in a file cabinet or office when they’re not in use. What you don’t need any longer, shred or destroy.
- Back up data regularly.
- Do you follow a routine backup schedule? Doing this regularly not only protects you if your data is ever compromised, but it can be invaluable in case of a natural or manmade disaster. Whether you back up in the cloud or a separate system/location, be certain it’s in a secure environment based on the points already covered on this page.
- Monitor vendors.
- Always verify how vendors and other third-party providers handle data you provide or share, whether manually or online. You can follow every safety precaution available, but if your vendors don’t do the same, you’re exposing your business to potential fraud.
5 Important Considerations Before Doing Business in the Cloud
A novel concept less than 10 years ago, cloud computing is rapidly changing the way companies do business. Now, rather than store data on hard drives or onsite servers, you can simply access information via the Internet. The cloud platform makes data accessible anytime, anywhere and from any device (such as laptops, tablets and smartphones).
There are many other benefits to cloud computing:
- Lower costs — Because cloud services work with your existing hardware and eliminate the need for traditional software, you can do more with less. This can add up to significant savings in installation, maintenance, upgrades and IT support costs.
- Easier sharing — Especially appealing for smaller businesses, collaboration is a breeze in the cloud. Multiple employees can work in shared documents and programs without having to be in the same location.
- More flexibility — As the workplace becomes more mobile and open to remote working arrangements, the ability to access work-related information anytime, anywhere and from any device is a huge plus. Whether working from home or on a business trip, you can tap into the necessary files.
- Greater integration — By integrating with various cloud-based providers for your day-to-day operations (from human resources to marketing to accounting), you can focus on other business priorities — all the while boosting your overall efficiency and productivity.
While this is good news, any shift in how you do business — especially when it involves critical files and data — requires a careful approach. Moving to the cloud can be storm-free if you weigh these five important factors:
This is number one with a bullet. Because you’re trusting your data to a third party, you can’t be too careful about choosing the most reliable and secure provider. To protect your data from unauthorized use and other risks, a cloud computing service should offer password protection, the latest data encryption and SSL enforcement for secure HTTPS access. Steer clear of any provider that can’t verify its security practices.
Understanding and getting comfortable with a cloud service shouldn’t be a frustrating and time-consuming experience. Seek out services that are logical and intuitive, where you can navigate the site quickly and easily. Watch the demos and sign up for any free trials to test the service first-hand before making a commitment.
When weighing cloud services, make sure you understand what is covered in the monthly service and what is extra. Verify the system requirements, too, as this could create additional costs for your business. Requirements may include high-speed internet connection, certain web browsers and operating systems, and Adobe Acrobat Reader to view reports.
Cloud-based services can eliminate a lot of your hardware maintenance issues and ongoing reliance on IT assistance. That being said, no system is perfect — and professional support should be readily available if you encounter snags. Ideally, you should have a few different ways to reach someone — whether email, instant chat or a telephone call — if you need help.