Technology is an integral part of most modern workplaces, and almost every business, firm, and organization now relies on technology to make financial transactions, communicate with co-workers and clients, plan and schedule interactions, and even network.
This is especially true for accounting firms, who today operate within an “always-on” digital world. They need to be connected at all times so that they can work effectively and deliver what the digital-age consumer expects. However, because accounting firms depend so much on their technology, security incidents can have a huge impact on your firm if you’re not prepared.
It’s not just big accounting firms who need to worry about cybersecurity, either; no firm is too small to be at risk of an attack. In fact, according to a study by Cybint, a cyber attack occurs once every 39 seconds in the US, and every year, one in three people in the country is affected by a cyber attack.
But even given these statistics and the fact that these warnings are well-publicized, it is estimated that only 5% of companies have adequate security protection. So what can your accounting firm do to better protect its systems? And how can you make sure you avoid one of the most deadly modern threats—ransomware?
Here’s what you need to know:
What Is Ransomware?
First of all, it’s important to understand what ransomware is and how it can be damaging to your systems. Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts a victim’s files. After the ransomware has infected your computer, it then attempts to spread to shared storage drives and other accessible systems.
Just like the name implies, ransomware takes control of a computer’s data and holds it “hostage” until you pay a ransom, usually a fee demanded in cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin. If the demands aren’t met, the encrypted data remains unavailable, and data may even be deleted or published. The ransom can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, and even if hackers promise to restore your data access upon payment, they don’t always follow through. Even if they do, data could be severely compromised at that point.
Although there are other methods of delivery, ransomware is frequently delivered through phishing emails and exploits that take advantage of unpatched vulnerabilities in software. What’s more, ransomware attacks are constantly increasing in sophistication, and cybercriminals are producing stronger variants. This is especially worrying because these sophisticated attacks can slip past antivirus products that many CPAs and accountants use.
One particularly well-known example of a ransomware victim was Uber, who suffered an attack that resulted in 57 million names, email addresses, and phone numbers being stolen. The company reportedly paid the hackers $100,000 in ransom money. For accounting firms who store even more sensitive information such as Social Security numbers and financial records, the effects and associated costs could be even more damaging.
How Can You Protect Your Business From Ransomware?
While the data may seem daunting, as ransomware attacks get more sophisticated, so do the cybersecurity defenses used to combat them. For accountants and CPAs, it’s a matter of investing in advanced cybersecurity planning and services before a breach can occur so you can avoid the severe damages and costs that come with sensitive data loss.
Here are some of the primary solutions you can begin implementing in your IT infrastructure to protect against ransomware:
Proactive Monitoring and Maintenance
One way to ensure your IT is being managed proactively is to outsource system monitoring to a Managed Service Provider. They provide 24/7 system monitoring and maintenance, which ensures that, rather than waiting for something to go wrong and then fixing it, your systems are protected against zero-day vulnerabilities and other security weaknesses at all times.
By proactively searching for flaws in your systems, constant monitoring allows you to patch backend vulnerabilities before hackers can take advantage of them.
Implementation of Incident Report Procedures
Recording all security incidents will ensure you can prevent future incidents and will allow you to improve flaws in procedures or systems. This not only improves security but also reduces overall downtime, which can be a huge cost saving benefit.
Proxy Servers and Anonymizers
Anonymizers and proxy servers can make sure that all the sensitive information you hold, such as names, email addresses, login details, and financial data, are kept secure and private when accessed or transferred using an open-net connection.
As your accounting firm works to implement more comprehensive cybersecurity, you can defend against the threats that so actively seek to steal your information. Though ransomware can be damaging to your firm if successful, you don’t have to be at its mercy; you can protect your systems today to ensure that hackers can’t take advantage of your firm.