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Mac & PC security basics: 3 things you must do to protect your information

Cloud-based accounting is progressive, efficient and affordable, but it’s also brought security concerns to the forefront.

In 2014, Software Advice surveyed consumer confidence in cloud-based accounting. Nearly half of respondents said their biggest concern was security. By 2015, that number had fallen to 28 percent, but it remained the top issue.

Fortunately, experience with the cloud and the security advantages of cloud-based accounting software have helped change that perception. Today, 57 percent of IT decision-makers and security members feel the cloud is secure, a number that rises to 78 percent among IT professionals. Cloud security has more confidence than any other on-demand security option, according to Schneider Electric research. But, living up to these confident expectations still requires taking proactive security measures.

Enterprise-grade cloud accounting software, such as QuickBooks® Online, has strong built-in security features that will work whether you’re using a PC or Mac, but these features provide the most security when you take fundamental measures to secure your entire system. Here are three basic precautions accountants must take to protect company and client information, whether you’re using a PC or Mac.

1. Keep your system current. The recent wave of ransomware attacks has underscored the risks of running computers using outdated software. Systems running older versions of Windows were hit hardest by the WannaCry attack, and while systems running Windows 10 aren’t immune without proper updating and patching, they have been significantly shielded in comparison.

J. Carlton Collins, CPA, says in the Journal of Accountancy that one of the most frequent mistakes he sees accounting firms make is running outdated or weak security software. Make sure you’re keeping your operating system, apps and antivirus software current to take advantage of the latest security updates.

To update your security on a PC running Windows 10, go into Settings under Update & security, and under Windows update, select Check for updates.

On a Mac, open the App Store, click Updates in the toolbar, click the Update buttons to download and install any available updates.

2. Set up your firewall properly. Another common mistake is relying on firewalls that have been partially or impartially configured. This can leave your system vulnerable to unauthorized access and limit your ability to detect intrusions.

On a PC, you should always have Windows Firewall running, even if you use an additional firewall. To activate Windows Firewall, go to the Start button, open the Windows Defender Security Center and select Firewall & network protection, then select a network profile, and go under Windows Firewall to turn the program on. If your device is connected to a network, your network policy settings may require you to contact a network administrator to complete these steps.

To activate a firewall on a Mac running OS X v10.6 or later, go to the Apple menu and choose System Preferences, then select either Security or Security & Privacy, and click the Firewall tab. Click the lock in the lower-left corner and enter your administrator username and password. Then, enable the firewall by clicking Turn On Firewall or Start. You can further customize your firewall configuration by clicking on Advanced to access additional options.

3. Run regular backups. Many companies only do partial or infrequent backups. A best practice is to run regularly scheduled backups, saving at least three copies of your data in at least two different media formats, such as a hard copy and a cloud copy, with at least one backup stored in a location off site, such as a vault or a remote cloud server.

Both PCs and Macs have built-in backup features. You should use these tools, but for best results, supplement them with a professional cloud backup service.

To run file backups on Windows 10, go to the Start button and choose Settings, and navigate to Update & security, and then under Backup, select Add a drive. You can select an external drive or network location to store your backups.

To run file backups on a Mac, use the Time Machine feature. When you connect to an external drive with your Mac, you may be automatically prompted to run a Time Machine backup, in which case you can select Use as Backup Disk. If you’re not automatically prompted, you can manually open Time Machine preferences from the menu. Choose Select Backup Disk, Select Disk, or Add or Remove Backup Disk. Choose a backup disk from the list, and click Use Disk. This will schedule automatic backups. You can also run manual backups by going to the Time Machine menu and choosing Back Up Now.

This isn’t a comprehensive list of security measures. In addition, you can look into VPN, encryption and anti-spam prevention. No matter what you choose, keeping your system current, setting up your firewall properly and running regular backups will go a long ways toward securing your accounting data.

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