December 22, 2022

Remote Access Security Plan: What CPA Firms Need To Know

CPA Firms: Why Remote Access Cybersecurity Plans Are Top of Mind 2023

Secure remote access is a crucial aspect of a Certified Public Accounting (CPA) firm’s long-term cybersecurity plan. Knowing how to implement and maintain effective cybersecurity plans when CPA firm employees are connecting to networks remotely from various devices is challenging. This is especially true when considering the sensitive personally identifiable information CPA firms possess about their clients. Understanding the regulations and pitfalls of secure remote access is of paramount concern to a CPA firm when developing a comprehensive cybersecurity plan.  As the trend towards remote and flexible work capabilities continues to prevail in the accounting profession, it is critical that C-suite executives comply with the laws and regulations concerning secure remote access. It is necessary to effectively manage their client’s personally identifiable information while also protecting their CPA firms and employees. This blog will describe what secure remote access means; what a remote access security plan entails; the technologies which help support a remote access security plan; and certain IRS regulations CPA firms are required to comply with.  First a general explanation of what remote access means.

What Is Remote Access?

The term “remote” has become synonymous with working from home, or a location other than the typical office setting or anywhere previously thought of as a typical locale for work. Remote access is defined as the “ability to access digital assets such as applications or files from a location geographically separate from where those assets reside.” Below are some benefits of remote access.

  • Allows for flexible network access. Remote access is the catchphrase to describe the process of accessing a network remotely regardless of geographic distance including overseas or out of the country
  • Includes different access options. Access can be established with a local area network (LAN), wide area network (WAN), or virtual private network (VPN). 
  • Allows tech support to connect. Remote access allows for IT professionals to connect to users’ computers from remote locations to resolve technical issues. 
  • Includes different connection options. Remote access allows users to use different devices and networks regardless of where they are located in relation to their home office.

While remote access has excellent benefits, it comes with a new set of challenging cybersecurity risks. Creating a comprehensive remote access security plan is a critical aspect of a CPA firm’s cybersecurity plan.

What Is Secure Remote Access?

Secure remote access encompasses far-reaching security strategies which are vital to incorporate into a CPA firm’s cybersecurity plan for myriad reasons. 

  • Prevents unauthorized access. Secure remote access includes security processes created to protect a firm’s network, resources, and confidential or sensitive personally identifiable information about clients or employees. 
  • Encompasses different methodologies. A cybersecurity plan which includes VPN, multi-factor authentication, firewalls, and antivirus protection contains some examples of secure remote access solutions. 
  • Includes a collection of technologies. Secure remote access is not simply a single technology, rather it is a combination of technologies that are effective as part of an inclusive cybersecurity plan when used together. 
  • Allows for effective collaboration. Cybersecurity teams in juxtaposition with network teams lead and manage the policies, processes, and technologies when creating a secure remote access strategy as part of an inclusive cybersecurity plan. 

Establishing a secure remote access plan allows for remote work to be a safe option for accounting firm employees.

Why Is a Remote Access Security Plan an Important Component of a CPA Firm’s Cybersecurity Plan? 

Cyberattacks are a very real, constant threat to CPA firms regardless of size or location. A robust, remote access security plan can minimize the risk of cybercrime by doing the following:

  • Protects digital assets. Cyberattacks pose threats to small and large CPA firms, regardless of where they are located. A data breach can significantly compromise the personally identifiable information of clients and employees.  
  • Implements consistent security measures. A remote access security plan requires all employees to comply with remote security measures. The plan would mandate that employees use secure devices when accessing confidential and personal data and would require the devices to meet the CPA firm’s security standards.  
  • Gives employees the tools to maintain cybersecurity.  A remote access security plan which is incorporated into a wide-ranging cybersecurity plan sets the standard for employees to consistently practice cyber compliance as part of their daily routines. 
  • Provides a mix of various cybersecurity strategies. An effective remote access security strategy will offer different technologies to help protect computers and networks from sinister cyber criminals preying on the vulnerabilities of remote work. The key is to incorporate various policies for the optimum cybersecurity plan.

Comprehensive security policies and procedures are imperative for CPA firms when developing a cybersecurity plan which addresses secure remote access. 

How To Maintain an Optimum Cybersecurity Plan in the Age of Remote Work

Implementing a combination of approaches is important in combating cybersecurity risks inherent when CPA firm employees are connecting to networks remotely from various devices.

  • Secure connections. The first step is to require all employees to use secure connections when linking remotely to a firm’s network. Require that the router used meets encryption standards. Public Wi-Fi should only be used in conjunction with a VPN in order to encrypt traffic between the employee’s device and the internet. 
  • Keep programs updated. Antivirus software should be updated frequently on all devices which connect to a CPA firm’s network. The router software needs to be updated as required. 
  • Inspect devices. As part of a cybersecurity plan, make sure any devices connecting to a CPA firm’s network meet security standards for remote access. Make sure device settings are not programmed to connect to public Wi-Fi.
  • Educate employees. An effective defense against cyber risks is educating CPA firm employees on best practices for remote access. Provide cybersecurity training to new employees and updated training to all other employees. Advise staff of the risks involved in using public Wi-Fi. Develop policies that are easy to understand and follow. Make sure the policies are available to all CPA firm employees and that they understand how to implement them. 

Protecting CPA firms from cybersecurity threats associated with remote connectivity and remote access involves rigorous policies fashioned to adapt to the highly sensitive data accounting firms deal with. 

Policies and Procedures: Tips for CPA Firms on What To Include in a Remote Access Security Plan

CPA firm employees can help support the effective implementation of a remote access cybersecurity plan. Below are some basic requirements for employees to help maintain cybersecurity. 

  • Create complex passwords. CPA firm employees should be reminded to use unique network passwords. They should use multi-factor authentication to access areas of a network that contain sensitive information. Such authentication can include a temporary code on a cell phone or a key inserted in a computer. Guard against password sharing among colleagues.
  • Vigilance matters. Stress to employees not to leave workstations open and unattended. Do not allow the software to be used which violates security standards. Make employees aware of the criteria necessary for them to meet to be granted secure remote access.
  • Sign important documents. Confirm CPA firm employees adopt and sign security policies and procedures, whether working in an office setting, remote home office, or a location overseas or out of the country. Keep cyber security rules up to date. Require any devices connecting to the firm’s network to be in compliance with security standards 
  • Focus on compliance with IRS regulations. A crucial aspect of a remote access security plan for CPA firms is following IRS regulations, including Section 7216 guidelines, particularly concerning clients’ Social Security numbers. Make sure CPA firm employees understand that Social Security data that is sent outside the United States must be encrypted or redacted. Additionally, if a tax return preparer is located outside of the United States or any territory or possession of the United States, the client must agree and sign a form consenting to the disclosure. If consent is obtained from clients to disclose Social Security numbers to taxpayers overseas, the Social Security numbers shall be encrypted or redacted. An exception to this rule is if both the sending and receiving tax preparers maintain adequate data protection safeguards, the Social Security numbers can be disclosed.

Maintaining secure remote access policies and procedures is a vital component of any cybersecurity plan. 

How Can Cetrom Help a CPA Firm Develop a Top-of-the-Line Remote Access Plan?

Cetrom is a leader in providing IT cloud-based security systems and has specialized 100 percent in the cybersecurity of CPA firms since 2001. Cetrom understands the challenges inherent in transitioning a CPA firm’s team to the new normal: a virtual work environment. Cetrom understands the specific needs of CPA firms, and hosts accounting-specific applications to meet remote access-specific challenges. Cetrom’s multi-level approach to cybersecurity can help C-suite executives and IT professionals take the key steps necessary to successfully transition and develop a remote access security plan. Cetrom provides custom IT solutions for CPA firms using state-of-the-art security technologies and senior-level engineers. Cetrom’s proven cloud solution provides top-level cybersecurity utilizing both a preventative and predictive approach, which allows C-suite executives the confidence to know their employees can effectively and securely work from an office or a remote location.

Concluding Thoughts

CPA firms who commit to a solid remote access security plan can offer their workforce the flexibility and convenience of remote work options while knowing they have a solid cybersecurity plan developed to protect their clients' personal information as well as the integrity of their CPA firms. Let Cetrom help your CPA firm develop a thorough and progressive remote access security plan. Cetrom can guide your CPA team toward creating a plan with policies and procedures to accommodate even the most stringent standards and IRS regulations. While you concentrate your talents on helping clients meet their financial goals, let Cetrom help meet your secure remote access security plan goals.  

Contact Cetrom today to learn more about how we can assist you with the challenging process of transitioning your firm to a remote access security plan as part of your overall cybersecurity plan.

 

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