Six Steps to Data Security

Cybercriminals continue to evolve, and data theft at tax professionals’ offices is on the rise. During week two of its “Tax Security 101” campaign, the IRS has identified six safeguards to help tax professionals protect taxpayer data:
1. Antivirus software
Since malware is created and updated on a daily basis, it’s important to have the latest antivirus software updates installed on your computer. Your entire computer should be scanned periodically. In addition, save and scan email attachments and web downloads rather than opening them directly from the source, and scan portable media, including CDs and DVDs, for malware before opening files.

2. Firewalls
Get protection against outside attackers by using a firewall to shield your computer or network. Firewalls can be configured to block data from certain locations or applications, but may not protect your devices if you accidentally install malware or are a victim of an email phishing scam.

3. Two-factor authentication

Get an extra layer of protection from two-factor authentication, which requires you to take another step in addition to a username and password, such as entering a security code sent to a mobile phone. IRS Secure Access, which protects e-Services, is an example.

4. Backup software/services
Critical files on computers should routinely be backed up to external sources, so that a copy of the file is made and stored online as part of a cloud storage service. You can also copy files to an external hard drive with multiple terabytes of storage capacity. Always be sure to encrypt taxpayer data that is backed up.

5. Drive encryption
Drive encryption, or disk encryption, transforms data on your computer into unreadable files for an unauthorized person trying to access it. Drive encryption may come as a stand-alone security software product, and may also include encryption for removable media, such as a thumb drive and its data.

6. Data security plan
The Federal Trade Commission’s Safeguards Rule requires tax pros to have a written data security plan. Get help with security recommendations and creating a data security plan from the IRS' recently revised Publication 4557, Safeguarding Taxpayer Data, as well as Small Business Information Security: the Fundamentals from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Get a summary of IRS data theft information resources from Publication 5293, Data Security Resource Guide for Tax Professionals.
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