The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is warning accountants and taxpayers that crucial steps must … [+]
The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is warning accountants and taxpayers that crucial steps must be taken now to prevent data theft. It comes amid nearly two dozen reports of stolen data over the past two months as the tax season kicks off.
It’s a scary warning and certainly one to heed, given that a breach of your data could lead to theft of your identity. We have all seen the devastating impact of the Equifax hack.
But the IRS does have a solution and it’s a sound one already used by many individuals and firms: multi-factor authentication.
In a news release, the IRS is encouraging tax professionals and taxpayers to use the free, multi-factor authentication feature offered on tax preparation software products. “Use of the multi-factor authentication feature is a free and easy way to protect clients and practitioners’ offices from data theft,” the news release reads.
Kenneth Corbin, commissioner of the IRS wage and investment division explained how the IRS, state tax agencies and the private-sector tax industry worked together as the Security Summit to ensure the multi-factor authentication feature is available to practitioners and taxpayers.
“The multi-factor authentication feature is simple to set up and easy to use,” Corbin said, warning: “Using it may just save you from the financial pain and frustration of identity theft.”
What is multi-factor authentication and how do I use it?
A staple of the cybersecurity world and used by all sensible people and businesses, multi-factor authentication is a step on from two-factor authentication–which means using another means of accessing your account in addition to a password.
This can be a biometric, such as your face, voice, or fingerprint, a passcode sent to your smartphone, or a security token or key. When multiple factors are used to authenticate your account, this is known as multi-factor authentication.
Using this method to improve your cybersecurity means hackers can steal your password– which unfortunately happens way too often–but they won’t be able to access your account unless they have for example, stolen your security key.
In simple terms, each extra layer of authentication adds more security to the service it is protecting. Passwords are stolen far too often and organizations such as the FIDO Alliance, now including Apple, are campaigning to reduce reliance on them.
Why do I need multi-factor authentication?
As I mentioned before, multi-factor authentication is used by many businesses already and in all seriousness: In today’s risky climate, it should be used by everyone. This is especially important for sensitive information you wouldn’t want to be seen by hackers, such as your tax details.
“Users should always opt for multi-factor authentication when it is offered but especially with tax software products because of the sensitive data held in the software or online accounts,” the IRS said.
Staying secure as the tax season kicks off
Tax season is a prime time for cyber criminals to carry out scams to try and steal data. It’s easy to make mistakes–some emails are so realistic that many people fall for them.
It’s with this in mind that the IRS is also reminding tax professionals to beware of “phishing scams.” This can see cyber criminals posing as someone you work with, or even the IRS itself, to try and steal your data by emailing fake links encouraging you to enter your passwords, or to download malicious documents.
It goes without saying that you should check all your emails carefully before performing these actions. Check the URL of links and never open documents from untrusted sources. You can’t be too careful–if it looks dodgy, it probably is.