All tax prep software will offer multi-factor authentication beginning in 2021

Notice: Historical Content

This is an archival or historical document and may not reflect current law, policies or procedures.

IRS Tax Tip 2020-169, December 10, 2020

The IRS and its Security Summit partners recently announced that multi-factor authentication will be available on all 2021 online tax preparation products. This security feature is designed to protect both taxpayers and tax professionals.

What is multi-factor authentication?

Multi-factor authentication requires users to enter two pieces of information to securely access an account or application. For example, taxpayers must enter their username, password and a number code sent by text to their cell phone.

More details about this important feature

For 2021, all providers agreed to make multi-factor authentication a standard feature. They also agreed it would meet requirements set by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This feature might not be available on over-the-counter hard disk tax products.

Multi-factor authentication is optional, but taxpayers and tax professionals are strongly encouraged to use it whenever it's available.

Users can check the security section in their online tax product account to opt-in to multi-factor authentication. It may be labeled as two-factor authentication or two-step verification or similar names.

Here's how it can stop thieves

Thieves use a variety of scams to download malicious software, such as keystroke logging software. This malware enables them to steal all passwords from a tax pro. Once they have access to the practitioner's networks and tax software account, they can complete pending taxpayer returns, alter refund information and use the practitioner's own e-filing and preparer numbers to file fraudulent returns. This is a dangerous combination.

With multi-factor authentication enabled, a thief might get one form of identification but will not have the second form of authentication which will block the thief's ability to receive the necessary security code to access the potential victim's account.

How to get multi-factor authentication

There are several ways people can get multi-factor authentication. Apps are available through Google Play or Apple's App Store. Once installed, these apps will generate a temporary, single-use security code, which the user must enter their tax software to complete authentication. There are also multi-factor authentication solutions that utilize hardware-based, physical security keys.

No product is fool-proof, but multi-factor authentication dramatically reduces the likelihood that taxpayers or tax professional will become victims of tax related theft.

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