CPAs Increasingly Working Remotely and Securely

New tools, devices, solutions (and concerns) for the anytime, anywhere CPA at work.

August 7, 2008
by Sukanya Mitra

For accountant Bob Herman, information technology security is still one of his greatest worries at work. Herman, the head of operations for Solutions Strategists, Inc. is part of the new breed of CPAs who also holds a Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) credential. He said today’s technological advances are making it easier for time-pressed CPAs to work any time, anywhere, but also creating a new set of worries for those responsible for the safety and privacy of their firm’s client data.

Herman, a speaker at the New Jersey Accounting, Business & Technology Show, which was sponsored by the New Jersey Society of CPAs, noted that while “IT Security” had slipped one notch to the ninth position on AICPA’s annual Top Technology Initiatives list in 2008, the top concern with many at the show seemed to still revolve around security. Of concern to many were how hackers can break into a computer, laptop or PDA when CPAs work remotely or via mobile computing.

Show attendees were more than happy to share their own worry lists with us. For instance:

  • When I call my computer company’s IT helpline and they take over my computer (desktop or laptop) and help me through a problem, can someone hack into my computer?

  • When I am at a Wi-Fi Hot Spot, is my laptop secure when I’m working and I am connected to my office’s network?
  • Should I do online banking from an airport Hot Spot? What are the risks?

Lucky for you the answers for two of the three questions was a reassuring “Yes, you are secure!”

This is because when you connect to your company’s network, you will be connecting through your company’s VPN or “virtual private network,” which Herman referred to as a “long, protective tunnel” that disallows hackers from interfering.

With doing online banking from airports and such, he noted all banks have that very familiar padlock icon proving that they are a “safe and secure” network. So once you enter your login and password, any transaction you conduct cannot be hacked into. However, he warned against rogue sites, which are set up by hacksters and can mirror your bank’s Web site. Oftentimes, hackers will ask you to update personal information on these sites by sending you an e-mail. He advised to always input the exact bank address in a new browser window before conducting any business with your bank. This will ensure a secure environment. He emphasized never going through those e-mails because then you will be setting yourself for trouble and BIG headaches as they are mostly rogue sites and you are not protected through them.

Blogs and Social Networks

Blogs and social networks are here to stay. Greg LaFollette, CPA/CITP, senior manager, Tax & Technology Consulting at Eide Bailly, LLP, as well as executive editor at The CPA Technology Advisor, led the session on blogs, podcasts and social networks. While he was quick to share how firms can grow their firm’s practice using these three methods, many skeptics in the audience again brought up the s-word as in “security” or the lack thereof. One participant also raised the question of how to block bad feedback from a blog. Who knows, maybe he was worried about bad word-of-mouth publicity of his firm. LaFollette said feedback was an option. Since LaFollette doesn’t have time to monitor it, he disallows feedback on his blogs.

For those of you who are always trying to keep your contacts straight and wonder whether some way Outlook could keep your addresses up-to-date, help is on the way via Plaxo. This is a social network site, which was developed as an online address book. It allows the user to enter names and contact information. When one of the user’s contacts moves or changes their e-mail, the new address gets updated automatically. No need to worry about where someone is and whether you have their most up-to-date information. And for those of you who are wondering whether someone else can get into your profile and change the names and phone numbers of your contacts? The answer is “No.” It is your profile with your contacts and no hackster can hack in.

And in the words of LaFollette, “today’s Internet is more secure than anywhere else. I would use my credit card on the Internet any day over using it in a restaurant,” where someone can misuse it.

So there you have it. Blog away CPAs. Work remotely. Store files off site. It’s never been more efficient and secure. Best of all, you’re in control when you want to be. Just bring cash with you the next time you eat out.

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Sukanya Mitra is Managing Editor of the Insider™ e-newsletter group.