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Building a Data Security Plan for CPA Firms & Accountants

March 15th, 2021 | IT Security, Security Policies

Your customers need more than your word to trust that their financial information is being properly protectedThey need to know that the right amount of strategic IT planning went into building a data security plan for CPA firms and accountants that are handling their valuable dataA written information security plan helps your firm protect customer information and adhere to the compliance and IRS standards and regulations facing tax professionals today 

The Importance of an Accountant & CPA Risk Management Framework

It can be a challenge for growing firms to balance productivity, cyber security, and cost investments, especially when they’re experiencing frequent changes to their organization’s operations and workforce. Your clients expect fast, friendly, and efficient customer service, but they also expect that their personal information stays safe along the way. Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools and IT investments are no longer an option, but a requirement for a strong business resilience and continuity strategy. However, it takes expert resources and ongoing consulting to implement and leverage these tools in a valuable way. This is especially true as firms work to accommodate and protect sensitive information across a hybrid workforce of remote and in-office staff.  

The abrupt shift to remote work in 2020 has pushed firms to adopt remote work software and business operations. Cyber criminals continue to target companies with IT security vulnerabilities they may not even know exist. According to Datto, ransomware remained the top malware threat facing businesses in 2020. Phishing, poor employee practices, and a lack of regular cyber security awareness training and testing were the top three vectors for a successful ransomware attack. All three vectors have a common target: your people. Cyber criminals use social engineering tactics to exploit everyday business transactions such as:  

  • credit card payments 
  • client financial requests 
  • tax returns  
  • managing client financial information 
  • hosting business-critical data in the cloud 
  • and more 

A data security plan for CPA firms and accountants takes both the technical and human factors of cyber security into account to build a dynamic defense against cyber attacks and internal risksThe following sections outline what goes into creating a data security plan and outlining a long-term cyber security roadmap for your firm. 

4 Steps for Building a Data Security Plan for CPA Firms & Accountants

Your IT services provider can work with your leadership to outline, manage, and refine your cyber security roadmap on an ongoing basis. A data security plan is a key part of your overall cyber security approach and should be accounted for within your 18–24-month cyber security roadmap. A best-fit IT security strategy will do the following:   

1) Perform a Cyber Risk Assessment

A proactive IT partner can collaborate with your firm’s key stakeholders to perform an IT security assessment that takes a deep dive into your IT environment and prioritizes your data security risks so you know what steps to take first. This assessment address both the technology and human elements of your firm’s security posture, and take an in-depth look at where and how data is used throughout your organization.

2) Align Your Cyber Security Plan with Your Business Goals

IT security cannot operate in a silo. You want your IT security plan to account for your firm’s goals and initiatives over the next 18-24 months. A cyber security strategy that does not align with the executive vision for the business is more than likely to failYour IT provider can help your firm plan around the ebbs and flows of your business to avoid burdening your team with IT projects during busy times such as tax filing season. This level of strategic planning works to make sure you can stay on track to reach your goals without risking your sensitive data and reputation.    

3) Outline Your Best-Fit Cyber Security Roadmap

A cyber security roadmap accounts for the measured refinement of all elements of your IT and data security plan over an 18–24-month period: IT threat prevention and detection, incident response, data security, disaster recovery, and business continuity. A strategic roadmap often serves three key purposes: 

  1. Define your firm’s current security posture/risk tolerance 
  2. Establish the leadership team’s vision for successful IT  
  3. Outline the IT security risks to address and when  

For a cyber security roadmap to improve your firm’s security posture, it needs to appropriately address both the technology changes and cultural initiatives you plan to implementHowever, efforts to mitigate human risks, such as employee security awareness training and testing, take both internal and external resources to execute successfully. Your firm needs to be prepared to invest the right amount of time and human resources to maintain productivity and functionality while keeping IT security at the forefront of business operations. You can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to data security and your firm’s unique culture and business needs are key to understanding the risks you face, as well as and when you will prioritize cyber security initiatives along your roadmap.

4) Test and Refine Your Cyber Security Plan

As your firm and the landscape of cybersecurity threats continue to evolve, so should your approach to cyber security. A stagnant IT security strategy often fails to protect businesses when it matters the mostWhy? Because it does not account for the continuous effort of assessing, mitigating, and refining your crisis management processes for preventing and responding to a cyber security incident 

Your firm’s business resilience relies on its ability to assess and adjust its cyber security approach in an iterative, and scalable way. To do this successfully, you should gather input from your company’s key decisionmakers, as well as leaders from your organization, ’s IT, HR, legal, operations, and other core departments. Your managed IT services provider can help your leadership team to establish and use IT security KPIs to measure the effectiveness of your data security plan and outline a strategy for making improvements to your approach. The goal is to have the right level of IT security tools and policies in place to prevent an attack as well as a well-implemented plan for responding to an incident while meeting your RTO and RPO goals.    

IT security is only one piece of our Framework for Successful IT. We use this Framework to help the accounting and CPA firms we work with to manage all aspects of their IT strategy, design, implementation, and support needs. The right cyber security solution is critical to the success of all four pieces of the framework and is top of mind in everything we do.  

If you want to learn more about what it takes to build a data security plan for CPA firms and accountants, schedule time to speak with a member of our team today!