What is the number one thing you can do as a consumer to protect yourself when dealing with tax preparers?
Practical examples of what to ask for from your tax preparer and why.
What are the total number of people that would have access to my records if I do business with you? You want me to sign a contract with you, terms and conditions that I have to abide by. If you are going to prepare my taxes, show me your affirmation statement where you as a tax prep preparer have put it in writing that you are fully in compliance as a business with the IRS requirements for tax preparers. Put that in writing.
If the IRS is the authority that is providing the designation that an organization is an IRS authorized tax preparer, then the IRS is the entity who defines the standard for what is the requirement put upon that organization or that person in order to have that designation. Therefore, it is completely legitimate to be asking as a prospective customer of that organization, "show me your compliance statements". How do you comply with the IRS requirements for tax preparers? And if you get anything other than a fully prepared premade statement they provided to you in writing, then that's problematic because it means that they are not compliant.
What is one of the most important things that a business owner can do in order to make their business survive the next decade?
Information security risk management is everyone's problem.
Business leaders cannot delegate and abdicate involvement.
If you are not having regular meetings with your vCISO, how can you make informed risk decisions? Do you know what the gaps backlog is for your organization? Do you have a risk register? If you refuse to make the time to meet regularly with your vCISO, your business is going to be squeezed by cybersecurity insurance requirements, governmental regulations, and customer requirements.
The executive management team needs to understand that if they do not tell all of the managers in an organization that they need to take responsibility for the ownership over their resources, then what needs to happen is that the executive management team needs to make the CISO or the IT department have full total authoritarian control over those resources. But then that turns into a big can of shut the heck up to the people who've abdicated their responsibility to be involved in the process. Because you can't have it both ways. You can't say that IT is responsible for the security of those assets, but then refuse to be involved in the conversations about who should be having access to what and when. And claim that you don't have time to talk about it, that it is not important. Of course it's important. Are you the resource owner or not? So you can't make it somebody else's responsibility to define the policy around who has access to that resource that ultimately you're responsible for and then yet get grumpy. when your access or the people who you thought should have had access to that resource have their access denied because IT is trying to clean up the mess. You can't have it both ways.
Whose responsibility is information security risk management? Ultimately, it's the executive management team. But they can delegate that through the organization to the resource owners and at the end of the day, IS risk management really needs to be everybody in the entire organization's responsibility. Information security practices need to permeate throughout the entire organization. The end users of an organization are the largest attack surface that an organization has.
Suggestions for tax preparers
Tax preparers need to comply with the FTC Safeguard rule which is currently slated to be enforced starting in June 2023. As of May 2023, the expected plan is that private contractors will be the enforcement auditing arm for compliance.
In reality, any company that had taken cybersecurity insurance compliance preparedness and had engaged a vCISO proactively several years prior would likely have no issue in this area. But the vast majority of tax preparers were unwilling to invest in the kind of protections that should have been in place for decades.
Here are some resources.
Page 13 of publication 4557 states that all tax preparers must comply with the FTC Safeguards rule. That means if you or your organization has an IRS tax preparer ID number, you must be in compliance and be able to prove that you are in compliance.
Tax preparers that are under $2mm in revenue should expect to spend 15% of revenue annually on all inclusive IT costs. If your spend is not that high, then your organization is likely not going to be competitive in the market and is bound to lose market share to players who have invested in becoming FTC Safeguard rule compliant.
Please also be aware that security theater is not compliance. I have seen some scams such as do-it-yourself kits through technical firms who specialize in servicing accountants (per their website).
More details from Joe Brunsman, cybersecurity insurance expert.