It’s no secret that the accounting profession is a specific target for cybercriminals, especially during tax season. The risks get higher each year, which is why it is so critical to take a fresh look at your security protocols and make sure they are up to speed, and your team, clients, and third parties that you work with are all aware of how to keep themselves, your firm, and all relevant data secure.
The IRS and its security partners recommend six specific steps you can take to comply with the latest regulations regarding client data and the Swizznet Obsessive Support® Team is here to help you implement them.
Use the following summary of the IRS Security Summit “Security Six” recommendations to “deep six” cyberthreats and put the following best practices in place for your firm including a written data security plan to meet the IRS 4557 requirement.
Generally, anti-virus software scans computer files or memory for certain patterns that may indicate the presence of malicious software (also called malware). It is recommended to complete the following scans regularly:
When selecting an antivirus package, tax professionals should learn about its features, so they know what to expect. Remember, keep security software set to automatically receive the latest updates so that it is always current.
Firewalls provide protection against outside attackers by shielding a computer or network from malicious or unnecessary web traffic and preventing malicious software from accessing systems. Firewalls may be broadly categorized as hardware or software. While both have their advantages and disadvantages, the decision to use a firewall is far more important than deciding which type used:
Firewalls primarily help protect against malicious traffic, not against malicious programs (malware), and may not protect the device if the user accidentally installs malware or falls for email phishing scams.
The use of two-factor authentication and even three-factor authentication is on the rise, and you should always opt for a multi-factor authentication protection when it is offered, whether on an email account, tax software account or any password-protected product 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 beyond a password. 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.
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 a copy of the file is made to an external hard drive. You should ensure that client data is backed up and also encrypted – for the safety of the taxpayer and the tax pro.
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 an unauthorized person accessing the computer to obtain data. 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.
This is critical for practitioners who work remotely. If a tax firm’s employees must occasionally connect to unknown networks or work from home, establish an encrypted Virtual Private Network (VPN) to allow for a more secure connection. A VPN provides a secure, encrypted tunnel to transmit data between a remote user via the Internet and the company network. Search for “Best VPNs” to find a legitimate vendor; major technology sites often provide lists of top services.
All accounting and tax professionals also should review their professional insurance policy to ensure the business is protected should a data theft occur. If you put off upgrading your tech stack in 2021, do it now to support your new remote or hybrid work environment.
Pre-pandemic, remote workers tended to be the exception, so network security and access were managed from an in-office perspective. Now, enabling staff to access a secure, virtual desktop through devices that have antivirus (AV), endpoint detection and response (EDR) and multifactor authentication (MFA) allows them to be productive while giving the organization a stronger cybersecurity defense.
Take time now for a tax season cyber security reality check to prevent a busy season business interruption.
Putting these steps in place will help to reduce your firm’s immediate exposure to cyber threats during the busy tax season and beyond. Now is the time to do a pre-tax season cyber security audit to make sure you have all of your bases covered. This is where the team from Swizznet can provide guidance and break down the components of a solid cyber security strategy designed specifically for your accounting firm. They can also help identify gaps in your current strategy which may need your attention.
Remember, the best offense against mounting cyber security threats is a strong offense. At Swizznet, their Obsessive Support® will ensure your accounting firm has the best possible protection and expertise available to keep your remote teams and practice running as efficiently and securely as possible. Join us for a webinar on Nov. 9 to get all of your Security Six bases covered!!
Dawn Brolin, CPA, CFE was recently welcomed as a new member of the Intuit Tax Council. The Intuit® Tax Council, a group of forward-thinking tax professionals who help lead positive change in the professional tax community, and provide inputs and insights that help shape the Intuit ProConnect™ business strategy. You can read Dawn’s interview about why serving on this council is so important to her as she works to help other accounting professionals succeed.
Bad days—we all have them. Over the past several months, many of us have probably had more of them than we would like. Yet “bad days” are a part of life so how can we learn to deal with negative situations so they don’t color the whole day gray, or worse yet, black? From my own experience, I have found that the most important thing I can do when faced with a challenge is to remember to bring my brain to the battle.
What do I mean by this? Let me give you a recent example from my CPA firm.
Over the past year, I have been working with a client on an IRS criminal case. This client came to me after working with another accounting practitioner who, truthfully, did not serve this client well and has put him in a precarious situation from a tax and financial perspective. Throughout the time I have been working with this client, it has become clear that he has a mental illness or, at best, post-traumatic stress disorder from the business relationship with the other practitioner who didn’t do their job.
Suffice it to say, it’s been very challenging for myself and my staff to work through this situation. Sadly, I had to fire this client last week after we had a tense call and he became aggressive, sending harassing and threatening emails with insults against myself and a staff member.
Facing a tough client or situation? Bring your brain into the battle on your behalf.
This is where remembering to bring my brain into the mental and emotional battle of this situation comes into play. I have to remember to use my thoughts to keep things in perspective and not to let this particular situation obscure my view of all of the things that our firm is doing right. I have to overcome my brain’s built-in negativity bias (The tendency we all have, according to psychological theory, to focus on the negative even if it’s really only a small percentage of the sum total of a day or situation, etc.).
This is the frame of reference that I use to coach the team member involved that everything is going to be okay. We have done our job, we did the right thing. As accounting practitioners, it’s far too easy to take the blame onto ourselves when someone else messes up. It’s hard to not get yourself wrapped up in the emotion of the moment and the situation at hand. I know for myself, I have to take the time to reflect and ask, “Did I do the right thing? Did I do the job I was hired to do?”
In this case, the answer is, “Yes. 100%.”
With this in my mind, I consciously bring my brain back to focus on fighting the urge to keep replaying the situation and keeping me in the negative place. It’s not easy, but it is necessary.
Don’t let dark clouds obscure a brighter view of your capabilities.
Something else happened on that recent dark day as well. Something pretty amazing which lifted the dark cloud and reminded myself and my team members that the negative situation was not the sum total of our abilities or our practice. In fact, the opposite is true—and this was proven out later that very same day.
Another client, who runs Lavendar Farm, came into our office to sign a Power of Attorney form. They had other questions and wanted to schedule another appointment with us. They were so polite and thankful for our help.
This client had just lost her parents and now her siblings are fighting over money. “We need to care about people and not worry about money all of the time,” I told her, as I shared The Designated Motivator (DM) philosophy from the book.
This is the type of client who our firm is built to serve. The people who get that we are all humans, doing the best that we can for them and who appreciate what we do. I am sure in your firm you have many of them. I am sure you’ve had a few challenging clients like the one I have been dealing with, too.
Keep those bad days in perspective—they do not define your professional or personal value
The truth is, in any profession and in life in general, we are all going to have struggles. If you are in the accounting profession like me, I know you’re going to have those same clients that are a pain and you are also likely going to have to deal with the IRS (they are basically useless right now).
When you feel the dark clouds rolling in, try bringing your brain into the battle to remain positive. Use it to remember that most of the people we encounter are more like the Lavendar Farm family and that, on the whole, you are doing the right things by people. Use your brain to make the tough decisions such as ending a bad relationship with people who choose not to appreciate what you are doing for them. Ultimately, that is the best thing you can do for your personal physical and mental health!
When things get tough, I want you to tell your brain to remember this little DM gem for you, too: You are too valuable to let someone else’s negativity obscure all of the good you are doing as a competent professional and caring person.
A colleague of mine recently shared a text thread from an accounting profession peer. Wow, did it strike a chord (more like a whole symphony) with me! In the author of the text, had shared a “Tip for working with accountants: Yes, tax season was extended, no we didn’t get all of our work done, no we haven’t been on a great vacation, no we are not all rested up. We are still physically, mentally and literally exhausted. Get a grip folks!”
Yowza! The frustration and pain of that text hits my heart—and I am sure it resonates with many of us who have tax preparation as a significant part of our practices. We can likely sympathize with these feelings of burnout and exhaustion. The feeling that the work is never going to end and that we are going to be crushed (literally and figuratively) by the IRS deadlines coming at us head-on like a runaway train. I know I certainly can.
The truth is, over the past two tax seasons the impact of Covid-19 has morphed what is typically a stressful and intense work period at best, to a completely new form of twisted tax torture.
Have we calculated the true cost of Covid on the accounting profession?
If this situation didn’t have such a serious impact on the physical, emotional and mental health of my colleagues, I might add some levity by imagining the 2020 and 2021 tax seasons as a special accounting edition of the show “Survivor.” Like contestants on that show, we’ve all had to draw on our inner strength and professional capabilities to make it through the daily IRS changes, shifts in the ways we have to work with our teams and our clients, as well as the extended (and extended further in some states) nature of the tax seasons that seem like they will never end. To say that the process has been a challenge might just be the biggest understatement of our professional lives.
What’s even more concerning to me is the impact it is having on accounting professionals on a personal level. Although the standard tax deadlines have passed for the most part, I don’t think they are really behind us. Consider how the text chain I referenced at the beginning of this article began with this snippet below. This is the same accounting colleague bravely opening up to his peers about the way he is really feeling:
“Glad I am not alone in this. I am honestly in a place I have never been—no motivation. I just don’t care anymore. The epoch that has been our life since March 2020…has me in a funk. Truly has me rethinking it all, at 41, what now, the same?”
This is truth. This is vulnerability. This is the real life “stuff” that we as professionals deal with—the human side of our work. This is exactly why I felt called to write my book “The Designated Motivator” at this particular time, in this particular year. In the burning fire of tax season.
Why every accounting professional needs a Designated Motivator
It’s for the accounting colleague who is questioning his profession, his purpose, and his life in deep ways—he is asking for someone to help him see there is more than just what is in front of him or on the immediate horizon at this moment. He needs someone to step in to be his Designated Motivator (DM)—the person I define as, “An individual who has the passion and ability to give others the greatest gift of all: the realization and mobilization of their true potential. Using their superpower to empower others to believe in themselves so they can achieve at higher levels than they thought were possible.”
Maybe you could be his DM. Maybe it’s me (I sent him a complimentary copy of the book). I hope that even if you don’t read the book yourself, you’ll take the DM Philosophy with you as work through the aftermath of this tax season.
This is The Designated Motivator philosophy in a nutshell: We all have a superpower within us—the ability to encourage and lift up others, to help them see their true potential and help them take action to get to a better place so they can realize it. Some of us feel that this is more than a latent desire. It is our passion and purpose. I know it is mine.
The DM Philosophy is about using your superpower to motivate others (or yourself), to help them (or you) to take action and to hold them (or yourself) accountable for making good on using their greatest gifts to reach their highest potential. You can read more about the DM Philosophy, Mindset and Toolkit here.
Imagine if we all did this for each other as professionals, but more importantly, as people. What would our daily lives be like? Imagine if we did this for someone and they paid it forward…the ripple effect across the world would be infinitely amazing!
Are you a Designated Motivator? Or do you need one?
By reading The Designated Motivator, you’ll have a solid framework for actually making positive change in yourself, others, and the world (if you so choose). I deliberately wrote this book to be an action planner and an accountability framework that you can use for yourself and others, because we all know that action is the only way to truly make a change. Just thinking about it doesn’t cut it.
Some of you might dismiss this DM book and philosophy as “motivational mumbo jumbo” and that is okay. Being a DM is not for everyone. But if reading this blog has sparked something in you, the desire to reach out to someone like the accounting colleague I mentioned here for example, or perhaps even reach out to find a DM for yourself, then I will consider it successful.
I decided a long time ago that I wanted to make a difference. It’s how I started down this DM path. I felt the desire in my soul and the fire in my belly to do what I could to make people realize how gifted they are and to help them see and seize the possibility they held within them.
Now that tax season is “over” yet for many of us not really behind us, I encourage you to take on the Three Key Responsibilities of a Designated Motivator to help a colleague, friend, family member, or anyone else who may need you to:
This is where the magic happens.
I hope you’ll join me and learn how to seize your DM superpower and make a significant and lasting change in your firm, your profession and in time, the world. Consider being a guest on my new podcast The DM Disruption starting this July. Complete the guest form here and get ready to join me with your DM story or a request for a DM!!!