IRS Security Summit releases data security plan to help tax professionals

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The Security Summit partners unveiled a special new sample security plan designed to help tax professionals, especially those with smaller practices, protect their data and information.

The special plan, called a “Written Information Security Plan” or WISP, is outlined in a 29-page document that’s been worked on by members of the Security Summit, including tax professionals, software and industry partners, representatives from state tax groups and the IRS.

Federal law requires all professional tax preparers to create and implement a data security plan. The Security Summit group – a public-private partnership between the IRS, states and the nation’s tax industry—has noticed that some tax professionals continue to struggle with developing a written security plan.

In response to this need, the Summit—led by the Tax Professionals Working Group—has spent months developing a special sample document that allows tax professionals to quickly set their focus in developing their own written security plans.

Carol Campbell, Director of the IRS Return Preparer Office, says that while tax professionals play a critical role in our nation’s tax system, it is difficult to know where to start when developing a security plan.

“The Summit members worked together on this guide to walk tax pros through the many considerations needed to create a Written Information Security Plan to protect their businesses and their clients, as well as comply with federal law,” says Carol Campbell, who also is co-lead of the Summit tax professional group.

Each year, the Security Summit partners highlight a “Protect Your Clients; Protect Yourself” summer campaign aimed at tax professionals. This is the fourth in a series of five tips for this year’s effort. These are issued each Tuesday to coincide with the Nationwide Tax Forums, which help educate tax professionals on security and other important topics.

There are many aspects to running a successful business in the tax preparation industry, including reviewing tax law changes, learning software updates and managing and training staff. One often overlooked but critical component is creating a WISP.

A security plan should be appropriate to the company’s size, scope of activities, complexity and the sensitivity of the customer data it handles. There is no one-size-fits-all WISP.

“There’s no way around it for anyone running a tax business. Having a written security plan is a sound business practice—and it’s required by law,” says Jared Ballew of Drake Software, co-lead for the Summit tax professional team and incoming chair of the Electronic Tax Administration Advisory Committee (ETAAC). “The sample provides a starting point for developing your plan, addresses risk considerations for inclusion in an effective plan and provides a blueprint of applicable actions in the event of a security incident, data losses and theft.”

Security issues for a tax professional can be daunting. The Summit team worked to make this document as easy to use as possible, including special sections to help tax professionals get to the information they need.

Campbell says the IRS has tried to stay away from complex jargon and phrases so that the document can have meaning to a larger section of the tax professional community. “It is not intended to be the final word in Written Information Security Plans, but it is intended to give tax professionals a place to start in understanding and attempting to draft a plan for their business.”

For example, a sole practitioner can use a more abbreviated and simplified plan than a 10-partner accounting firm, which is reflected in the new sample WISP from the Security Summit group.

Once completed, tax professionals should keep their WISP in a format that others can easily read, such as PDF or Word. Making the WISP available to employees for training purposes is encouraged. Storing a copy offsite or in the cloud is a recommended best practice in the event of a natural disaster.

For information, visit www.irs.gov.

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