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Exclusive: Why payroll security is more important than ever

Security

The urgency for payroll security has never been more heightened than in recent times.

In a rallying call for greater awareness, the Internal Revenue Service (or IRS) has even escalated payroll security to a new alert after finding it was the target of well-funded, intelligent, and counterfeit cyber-crime.

With an increasing portion of the workforce working remotely, under new social distancing procedures, the role of payroll has already had to swiftly (and flexibly) adapt to this ‘new’ normal. The constant evolution of cyber threats, even into this unfortunate moment, has left the those unprepared even more vulnerable than ever.

For companies of all shapes and sizes, it’s crucial to ensure the proper processes and practices are in place to safeguard highly sensitive, if not confidential, payroll data.

Cybercrime: a hoax or a threat?

As the payroll department manages a wealth of mission critical information – everything from employee details, to sensitive financial reports – it’s now urgent that businesses respond to the growing risk of cybercrime.

Indeed, the reaction to a malicious and resourceful cyber-criminality found online has been overwhelming, with governmental bodies even going as far as to elect funds and resources to curbing its influence. That’s to suggest that cyber-criminality, or any form of fraud, is now the target of awareness campaigns set out to ensure financial deceit and theft is more greatly regulated.   

Companies with payroll have two main areas to secure: physical records and online ones. Cybercrime may be riskier for payroll fraud or theft, but security procedure should start from within the office.

Cybercriminals employ various, often underhand, ways to gain unauthorised access to information. The target could be the finance department or by defrauding payroll providers, especially those that continue to rely on manual and unencrypted systems.

Payroll is a more attractive target for cybercrime precisely because, as an essential department, it is typically information-rich and it manages financials. Payroll can quickly become the source of costly data breaches without the proper layers of protection, both on the inside and out.

What to look out for

Companies should keep vigilance by auditing their system and risk-proofing, which describes how a business can create a tight seal around their payroll by prematurely identifying any vulnerabilities. Anything that seems suspect or unusual should be promptly (and formally) investigated.

Start with prevention

The best way to cull the influence of the cybercrime is to prevent it altogether. If you set out regular audits, review, and asses your payroll security often, then you’re more likely to catch out any fraudulence before it escalates into a costly breach.

Your best hope for prevention is to start with a training programme and share the essential skills amongst all your teams. Teachable moments, where security is both about action and reaction, should focus on the goal of training your teams to firstly prevent a breach, but also how to respond proportionally if they suspect anything.

Secure your office(s)

After training, reinforce your defence against all sorts of crime by ensuring your physical office space is protected. This means that files are tightly secured and watched and appropriately destroyed thereafter. Learning how to handle sensitive information can quickly decrease the risk of key files leaking to the wrong people.

The best method of security is to record and backup strict measures with policy (and updates these regularly).

Check your online security

Your online system is potentially the riskiest hotspots for cybercrime to fester and grow into something more than a common nuisance.

Ensure your equipment is secure with a layer of encryption and avoid opting for free firewalls, which might unintentionally open your business to cybercrime. Regularly update your security and inform staff of those layers of protection – therefore, equipment can be utilised properly and safely.

Circulate information about the latest scams and cons, too. This will help your staff remain vigilant with the confidence and knowledge to prevent unintentional spills of information.

Outsource your payroll

Being totally fool proof is no mean feat, but reputable payroll providers have the wit and wherewithal to circumvent and outsmart cybercrime. Many businesses opt for outsourcing their payroll.

A third-party will only collect relevant information, just as they will regulate files closely and attentively. All data is securely encrypted and hides behind authorisation protocols, such as passwords.

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Steve Cox

By Steve Cox, Chief Evangelist, FMP Global (owned by IRIS).