The Security Summit’s “Working Virtually: Protecting Tax Data at Home” campaign will stretch over five weeks, providing remote-work data security recommendations for tax professionals. Whether you are a work-from-home veteran or were forced to convert the dining room table into a makeshift office, these tips can help protect client data from identity thieves.
The second week of “Working Virtually” focuses on multi-factor authentication (MFA). While included in the “Security Six” protections highlighted last week, the Summit is specifically namechecking MFA for one simple reason: It works.
What is multi-factor authentication?
Multi-factor authentication protects online accounts by requiring additional user-provided information during the login process. In some cases, that means entering a code sent to your email address, mobile phone, or third-party authentication application—which are the most secure of the three options.
Finding a suitable authentication app will largely depend on the account or software you’re trying to protect. Most platforms that support MFA will list the authentication methods they support, but the IRS says you may need to “use a search engine for ‘Authentication apps’ to learn more.”
Once you find the authentication app you need, it’s just a matter of downloading the program to your smartphone and following the setup instructions.
Why is multi-factor authentication effective against identity thieves?
MFA prevents identity-theft attacks by requiring a code that scammers can’t easily steal with phishing scams. Outside of tricking victims into providing login credentials, identity thieves like to hide malware in email attachments and links that is designed to steal victims’ passwords.
“However, with multi-factor authentication, it’s unlikely the thief will have stolen the practitioner’s cell phone so he would not receive the necessary security code to access the account,” the IRS explains. “This protects the tax pro’s account information.”
Will my tax preparation software offer multi-factor authentication?
The IRS says “all tax software providers will be required to offer multi-factor authentication options on their products that meet higher standards [in 2021].” Despite generally being optional for users, it’s a good idea to enable MFA in your tax software—especially if you’re working remotely.