As an accounting professional, you’re required to transfer sensitive information every day in tax returns, payroll reports, financial statements, QuickBooks or Peachtree files, and other financial documents. Most of us would just attach these items to an email, but is that really the safest, smartest way to share information?
Considering the ever-increasing security risks associated with internet communication and especially email, it’s more important than ever for accountants to find secure means of file transfer that help them protect both their business and their clients’ information.
Think of an email as a postcard – if you attach a file to that email, it’s like writing the information on the back of that postcard. As the postcard travels through the postal service all of the information is visible to anyone who happens to pick it up and take a look. Similarly, a file attached to an email can be scanned by hackers who are “phishing” for information. Password protecting that file is the equivalent of putting that postcard in an envelope. While password protection is better than no security at all, it’s shockingly easy to open, even without prior knowledge of the password.
To protect yourself, your firm, and your clients, I encourage you to use both of the following cloud-based portal and file transfer providers. These services provide encryption (which is the equivalent of shredding that proverbial postcard before you send it out, and then reassembling it for the recipient), but with widespread concerns about the safety of your data in the cloud, which product do you choose? There is a plethora of information about cloud file transfer providers, so be sure to do your homework and choose a reputable vendor with solid security practices.
Every business’s needs are different, but the answers to the following questions are important for any firm:
- Is all data transmitted and stored with at least 128-bit encryption?
- Has the vendor ever experienced any sort of security breaches?
- Is the data stored in a SAS 70 or SSAE16 compliant data center?
- Does the provider perform regular third-party audits?
- Is the interface easy to use?
- Does the program integrate easily into your current workflow?
At The Sleeter Group, we use and recommend two products that provide somewhat similar capabilities, but each have their own unique strengths.
For our Sleeter Group Consultants Network, we provide a free access to our Sleeter ShareFile Portal hosted by Citrix ShareFile. This cloud-based file transfer solution helps accounting firms transfer large files to clients and colleagues securely. You can use the Web interface to upload/download files, or you can use the ShareFile Outlook Plug-in to securely send files by attaching links to the files in the body of an email. Note that the Outlook plug-in is not available with the free Sleeter ShareFile Portal. However, ShareFile can provide you with your own branded online portal accessible through your firm’s website if you fine you need more data storage, bandwidth or features.
Another service we use internally and recommend to our clients is SmartVault. This service is more than just file transfer. It is an online document management portal that also provides a file sharing feature. But in addition to storing documents in the cloud, you can connect documents to transactions or records in QuickBooks, Results CRM, Method CRM, and other applications. SmartVault also just released their Outlook Plug-in that allows you to send files securely by attaching a link to files in email.
With both of these services, all files are transmitted with 256-bit SSL encryption, and folders within the client portal are only viewable and accessible to specified users that are predetermined by you.
It is important to find a solution that integrates seamlessly into your workflow so that you are not slowed down in your day to day activities. In addition, whatever solution you choose should allow you to transfer large files (e.g. QuickBooks files) securely and professionally, which are often too large to be transferred by email.