Cybersecurity in finance: 5 ways to protect financial information
Data security is another area that is dear to the finance professional’s heart. In 2024, the cybersecurity landscape will see a sea change in the way that threats emerge and how they are countered.
This piece explores 5 surefire ways to enhance the security or your company’s financial data, from manually checking for software updates to opting for a scalable cloud-based accounting software.
What is cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity refers to the practice of ensuring that access to data and systems is confined to only authorised people and applications. The main point of cybersecurity is to prevent the theft or damage of information.
While cybersecurity encompasses a wide range of technology solutions to prevent data breaches and attacks, its efficiency relies on human interaction with systems, including finance software. It all starts with educating and training individuals on how to securely operate such systems, and how to diminish the chances of becoming the target of cyber attacks.
Additionally, as AI technologies are advancing, attackers are also developing malware and phishing scripts using AI. On the bright side, security companies are using AI to spot threats quicker and develop counter-programming faster than ever before.
How are cybersecurity and finance connected?
Truthfully speaking, even if your company is using an old-school, on-premise finance system, you’re most certainly using email and internet connectivity for daily operations.
But here’s the trick — time and time again, we’ve been proven that the internet, as useful as it can be, also acts like an open door for fraudsters — leading to data breaches and compromised information being shared online.
Of course, the very nature of the finance team means that it is a key target for cybercriminals from a low-tech phishing attack or a more complex systems fraud.
A recent study shows that, in the UK, 36% of finance and insurance businesses have identified breaches or attacks in 2023, compared with 54% the previous year. Does this mean fewer threats or lack of efficiency in identifying them? We hope that 2024 holds the answer to this question.
Unfortunately, it’s expected for areas such as finance and accounting to be a main target for such attacks. CFOs and finance professionals are often tasked with preventing and resolving any data protection issues. Sometimes it may feel as though you are surrounded on all sides!
5 ways to protect your company’s financial data
How can CFOs and finance professionals effectively protect financial data?
While there’s no easy way to answer this question, one thing’s for sure: start with a cybersecurity risk assessment that highlights areas where your finance department is performing well but also points out the flaws and weaknesses of existing systems and processes.
Furthermore, every UK-based business should sign up to and meet the requirements of Cyber Essentials.
This isn’t a universal panacea but a minimum level of cyber security awareness and should be seen as a jumping-off point to more sophisticated risk mitigation. The process is self-certificated and can be done at your own pace which makes it suitable for small or very busy companies.
To take things to a higher level, Cyber Essentials Plus is the same certification but this time with the addition of an audit requirement.
The value of both of these schemes isn’t so much in the awarding of a certificate but more in the process which forces people to think about the environment that the company operates in and the risk levels it faces.
While risk assessments and certifications help create awareness around the biggest cyber threats for finance departments, this article covers 5 practical ways to help you take action today.
1. Update your accounting software regularly
If the desktop version is your go-to choice, make sure you regularly check for software updates. New threats emerge every single day — be proactive, inform your team, and keep an eye on industry best practices.
2. Opt for cloud-based accounting software
While on-premise accounting software has its perks, cloud-based systems are known to be faster and more secure. Forget about relying on manually saving documents and sharing sensitive information via third party apps.
A cloud-based accounting software like Access Financials enables you and your team to make changes on the go without worrying about your financial data being compromised or getting stolen. Besides, our experts can help you securely migrate your financial data to our system in as little as 24 hours!
3. Limit access to financial information
A great way to protect financial information is to follow the principle of least privilege. Understand yourself what your company defines as “sensitive” financial data and who needs access to this type of information on a regular basis.
4. Enhance security through MFA
While creating strong passwords is a no-brainer solution, enhancing security with multi-factor authentication may still need reinforcing at a wider company level. Taking multiple steps to log into your account can be inconvenient at times but great things take time and effort. After all, adding an extra layer of security pays off!
5. Monitor financial accounts
This one is quite straightforward as monitoring financial accounts comes with the job from finance professionals. Looking at the bigger picture, overseeing financial transactions can help detect any suspicious activity early and prevent fraudulent attempts.
Cybersecurity challenges in finance
From a simplistic point of view, finance has access to the company bank accounts and therefore it is a key area of attack for cybercriminals.
Phishing attacks, often using emails with malicious links embedded within are almost as old as email itself but still work even today.
A good example of a simple (yet sadly all too effective) social engineering cyber attack is an email coming from a senior director demanding that a payment be made quickly to a new bank account. Of course, the director is in a meeting and can’t be disturbed by a call.
These kinds of attacks are much easier today with the amount of publicly available information online.
As we have already mentioned, finance tends to be a heavy user of applications so digital security is also important. With so many apps being interlinked it is possible an attacker could gain access to one system and by extension then be able to use others.
The larger the company, the wider its vendor and customer network and this simply increases the cybersecurity risk landscape. The problem is compounded when third parties have access to systems or are required to use apps to carry out their work.
Finance generally has the ‘keys to the safe’ when it comes to data so quite apart from the risk of monetary theft, data breaches are also an area that needs to be attended to.
The cybersecurity skills gap is a very real issue and finance is no exception in this respect.
Although a lot of risk is attached to the finance function, many companies simply don’t spend enough time or money training their people to understand and manage the cyber threat.
It is not unusual for most of a finance team to be studying for accountancy exams so adding an extra training requirement can be a burden but a necessary one all the same.
Cybersecurity in finance has always been a major area of interest considering how high the stakes are and how disruptive the consequences would be for the entire company.
That is exactly why one of the best ways to prepare your company for a cyber threat situation is to make sure that it is supported from the very top. If the CEO, Chair and Board are all fully behind any cyber and data security effort then it is a fair bet that the rest of the company will take it seriously too.
At Access, we offer different Success Plans that enable you to choose the level of support you need to get the most out of your cloud accounting software.
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The Access Group provides integrated business management software.