Cybercriminals love tax season: Are you prepared?

For U.S. citizens, accountants and small businesses, IRS Tax Day isn’t any fun. But for cybercriminals and identity thieves, the days leading up to and after Tax Day resemble something akin to the 12 Days of Christmas.

This year, the risks are greater than ever for both individuals and corporations filing and handling personal and financial information.

Cybersecurity expert Brian Krebs posted earlier this year about a new front in this particular war. On the web’s black market, or dark web, Krebs discovered hackers selling raw and complete W-2 tax data reaped by “spear-phishing” a tax preparation firm. By posing as the IRS or some other authoritative figures, the fraudsters in question tricked employees into forwarding information in bulk and then turn around to sell that on the dark web.

These types of attacks continue to become more sophisticated - often, the difference between a legitimate and a scam email can be as small as a single character in an address or URL.

Tax information far more valuable than credit cards

Think about how much financial and personal information you need for a 1040 form, and that factor increases seven-fold for organizations that use 1120 forms. This massive concentration of data - Social Security numbers, addresses, income, bank accounts, assets and expenses and much more - is the mother lode of identity theft.

With so much on the line, these records are much more lucrative for criminals. Still, you might be surprised how cheap, in absolute terms, your entire financial record can be - which is likely why fraudsters are after so many of them when held by organizations.

“Tax filing information is probably the most premium type of record criminals can buy on the underground,” Limor Kessem, executive security advisor at IBM Security, told Bloomberg. “It goes for $40 or $50, and unlike credit cards, never expires. People can try and get loans in someone’s name, make fake IDs in people’s names, get credit.”

As more and more people file their taxes online or with firms that use cloud-based tools, the attack surfaces continue to increase in size. As much as businesses would like to train their employees so well that they never fall prey to spear-phishing attacks, human judgment and user error will always remain a fact of life.

How to prevent and handle tax return crimes

One of the best ways for organizations to reduce the risk of losing information to outside vectors is, of course, training. Ensuring that employees, especially those tasked with maintaining and working with financial records - are aware of cybercrime risks and the best ways to combat them is an important task for IT and compliance professionals.

Still, incidents will occur and people will make mistakes. Once a breach has occurred, time is of the essence. The faster organizations are able to locate the source of the leak and how it occurred, the more quickly they’re able to shut it down and take corrective action. The larger the target organization, the more complex this endeavor can be. Fortunately, stronger tech solutions are contributing to better fraud protection and quicker ends to investigations.

Specifically, big data investigation solutions that empower investigators to visualize otherwise discrete connections allow these professionals to quickly and comprehensively examine large data sets and complex networks, identifying breadcrumb trails that lead directly to suspicious actors.

Visallo’s platform helps to detail interactions between different users, locations, and platforms. As a result, Visallo users can track down fraudsters, put an end to their activities and identify weak spots, which ensures the prevention of similar crimes in the future.