How to Build a Cybersecurity Plan for Your CPA Firm

Small accounting firms shouldn’t cut corners on cybersecurity security just because they are too busy or want to save money. It’s easy to think your smaller size will keep you under the radar of malicious actors. But the sad reality is that 43% of all cybercrime is directed at small and mid-sized businesses, according to Verizon’s 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report. The stakes are particularly high for accounting firms who manage so much confidential financial data and whose businesses are based on a trust that you can keep clients’ personal data secure. 

Unfortunately, smaller accounting firms frequently have less secure technology infrastructures, unenforced cybersecurity policies, and little to no cybersecurity training for their employees, leaving many vulnerable to a cyber attack. According to a poll of 1,000 small businesses in InsuranceBee’s Cyber Survey, a whopping 83% of smaller businesses are not financially prepared for an attack. Cyber attacks can take websites offline and cause businesses to go down for hours or days. They can erode confidence in your ability to store customer data, and remediation efforts can weigh heavily on your bottom line. 

“In the case of small businesses, a data breach can be devastating,” the FTC’s last acting chairman, Maureen Ohlhausen, testified in 2017

With bad actors salivating at the opportunity to strike companies with cyber vulnerabilities, it’s never been more important to adopt a cybersecurity plan to protect your firm. Wondering where to begin? We’ve compiled a list of simple and actionable steps that your firm can take to help you get started…

Start with an IT security assessment 

A cybersecurity assessment takes stock of a company’s existing security policies, practices, and countermeasures and recommends ways to improve upon those to safeguard company and customer data. To get started, perform a deep dive into your technology infrastructure and prioritize which systems and applications contain the most sensitive data (we highly suggest hiring an IT provider to do this for you). An overview will help you grasp where and how all your organization’s data is stored and expose potential weaknesses. 

Try Tech Guru IT’s four-minute security assessment to get started.

Identify key security milestones

Once you have an idea where data is flowing, begin to craft a cybersecurity plan with key milestones that align with realistic company goals. Start with the higher risk and more sensitive areas first and then work your way down the list. For more extensive IT projects, consider hiring a third-party IT company whose expertise you can confidently rely on to fortify your systems from vulnerability. 

However, don’t think that IT can operate within a silo. Your company’s technology infrastructure is intimately involved with every aspect of your business and operation. Every group’s needs and workflows must be considered to ensure onerous policies don’t hamper productivity.

Write it all down

To make all of this official, write your cybersecurity policies down. Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, smaller businesses too often operate by word of mouth rather than through actual documentation that can seem time-consuming and bureaucratic. Documenting key IT policies will ensure that all aspects of the business are complying so an attack can’t slip through the cracks. 

Once you’ve identified and implemented security protocols, policies, processes, and procedures write them into a guide that everyone in the company can easily refer back to. Train new hires and provide recurrent training for existing staff. And don’t forget to continuously update your cybersecurity policies as you identify new best practices and procedures.

Identify a cybersecurity policy owner on your team 

It’s important to continue prioritizing cybersecurity long after the initial plan has been written. The best way to do that is to identify an owner on your team who can take the lead on making sure the firm is on track to meet milestones. This person should have some technical knowledge as they operate as the liaison between company leaders, IT staff, and external IT partners. Expect this person to be a leader in the organization who is already entrusted with decision-making power and can directly collaborate with IT professionals. 

Find a strategic IT partner

Hire an outside IT partner who has the expertise to help your company achieve your cybersecurity goals. A strategic cybersecurity partner can help fortify your systems with the best security practices available and will be there to mitigate any vulnerabilities or attacks that may arise. 

You can think of this company as a personal cybersecurity guide, helping your company identify risks, assign policies, and implement technology infrastructure to mitigate threats. If a cyber-attack does occur despite everyone’s best efforts, they’ll be a crucial partner in crisis management helping your firm respond to a breach and re-securing your infrastructure.

It’s time to take your cybersecurity to the next level.

With all accounting firms at risk of a cyberattack that can hurt a company’s bottom line and reputation, it’s critically important to begin prioritizing cybersecurity. Get an assessment (or take ours), and figure out where exactly your firm stands in terms of protection from malicious actors. Then begin implementing policies (and writing them down) so that the entire organization can fight cybercrime together.