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Monday, April 15, 2013

Making tax filing easier

It's tax day as I write this blog.  I put off the dreaded task until last week but got it done and am now thinking about how to make this task easier next year.  I don't think I've met anyone who looks forward to the process of filing taxes.  You have to be able to find and provide supporting paperwork for your return, no matter who does the filing.

I started doing a few things differently last year that helped.  But this year, now that I have a SafelyFiled account, I plan on doing things even smarter and being proactive which should really help for next year.  Since the pain of filing taxes is still very fresh in my mind, I thought now would be a good time to get new processes in place and keep them up so that next year, barring any crazy new tax laws that I'm not prepared for, filing will be much easier.

Paper Organization

The first change we made since we own a small business as well as personal files,  was that we set up our business file folders to correspond to the filing categories that line up with the Turbo Tax categories.  That
Before SafelyFiled
helped tremendously this year as we didn't have to stop data entry to go through the stack of receipts and other business related papers to sort them into the proper categories.  That was a great start but my files still look a little chaotic as seen in this photo.

Digital Organization

Now that we are using SafelyFiled, I've set up folders in my SafelyFiled account to follow that same model.  But instead of keeping paper copies of all of the receipts and supporting documents, which are no longer necessary as I file electronically, I will scan or use my smart phone to take images of these paper documents, shred the originals as I go and keep only a digital copy in my SafelyFiled account. That way, if I am audited in the future, I can simply go to my business files for the appropriate year(s) being audited, and can either grant access to the auditors so they can view them or I can download all of the docs to a thumb drive or CD and provide that to the auditors if they'd prefer.  Instead of the paper clutter, now my files look like this:

After SafelyFiled
Secondly, after I completed my return this year, I discovered that to print them for my physical folders, it was going to be 50 pages long!  Printer ink is expensive and it takes up a lot of space to store those records for 3 - 5 years as required by the IRS.  Not to mention the time it will take to shred them all when I no longer need to keep them.   So, instead of printing my tax return to the printer, I opted to print them directly to a PDF file.  Then I uploaded that file into my SafelyFiled account under my Taxes -> 2012 -> Completed Tax Files folder.  I then added helpful tags to help me quickly locate it in the future if needed.  I also left a note to myself recording the steps I took to print to PDF, in the event I forget how I did that when it comes time to do it again next year. I also set up a reminder on my file to nudge me along a little sooner next year.

Pain free option

I may not do my own taxes in the future.  I may opt to hire an accountant because my taxes are getting more complicated.  If I add my supporting tax documents to SafelyFiled throughout the year and decide to hire an accountant next year, I can simply invite my accountant to share in those folders where they can view all of my supporting paperwork and even download them to their computer if desired.  I can leave instructions as notes on files and we can communicate on very sensitive information securely without having to transmit data via email or over the phone, which is very unsecure.

For tax accountants (and other service professionals), this would be a great way to build loyalty for your business as well.  You can use SafelyFiled for your own business then sponsor or refer your clients to SafelyFiled and start them off by uploading their tax return forms for them!  I for one would be so very thankful to my service professional for doing that for me!


Friday, April 12, 2013

Tagging your way to organization

Traditionally documents on computers have been organized in directories, and paper documents have been organized in folders.  If you have a strong organizational scheme this can work well.  When you want to find the office phone bill from the spring of 2003, you know to look in your computer under Office->Utilities->Phone->2003.


But what if you are not so consistent in your organizing scheme?  Was that Office->Utilities->Phone or Phone->Business?  What if the organizational criteria for document does not neatly fit a single category?  Where will you file the receipt for you newest mobile phone?   Under Business->Phone, Warranties, Business->receipts, Warranties->2013, etc?

Tags to the rescue

In that case you need a more flexible solution. Use tags.  You can think of tags as labels or sticky notes you would apply to things in the physical world.  For your mobile phone receipt, at different points you may want to look for it as receipt, mobile phone, warranty, 2013, or business.  You can create a tag for each category and apply all of them to the receipt.
Tags in the physical world.
Image credit: tovovan / 123RF Stock Photo

This would result in chaos in the physical world.  You would have pieces of papers with many labels on them, but you would still never be able to find anything.  Fortunately, things are different in the digital world.  The computer can quickly find all the documents with the 'mobile phone' tag regardless of which folder you happened to place the documents in.

So if you are thinking of your mobile phone receipt in terms of remembering how much you paid for it, you might want to use the 'receipt' tag to look for it.  If you are thinking of your mobile phone receipt in terms of getting the phone replaced because it broke, then you would use the 'warranty' tag to look it up.

Tagging in SafelyFiled

SafelyFiled encourages you to associate tags and other meta data with your documents and folders to ease later searches for documents.  This meta data for the currently selected document or folder is displayed on the right side of the document screen.
Example SafelyFiled document view.  Note the meta data details (including tags) on the right hand side
'Location' and 'Refers To' are tags as well.  Their purpose is specialized to indicate where a document is stored (in the case of Location) and who it refers to (in the case of Refers to).  In the case of this document, I've indicated that the physical copy of the Air Conditioner Warranty is stored in my filing cabinet in the top drawer; it refers to my family in general; and I'm tagging it as a warranty, a house issue, and an appliance.

The best part of tagging comes on the document retrieval.  On the upper left side of the screen there is a search text field.  Next to the search text field, I've selected the "tags+" option.  This means that my search will concentrate on tag, location, and refers to elements.  Later when I want to review all the warranty documents, I can enter the word warranty in the search field.  With a new auto-completion feature we are deploying this weekend, SafelyFiled will prompt me with likely names as I start to type warranty, so I'm covered if I don't remember if it was warranty, Warranty, warranties, or warantee.

Example of the search box auto-completion feature prompting you with the tag named warranty.
 The search will return all the documents that have the tag warranty associated with them regardless of which folder they are filed in.  So if you filed the air conditioner warranty under the "Home" or the "Financial" folders it doesn't matter.  As long as you tagged things correctly, the search will find it.
Search results for "warranty".

Tag away!

Other online services like gmail also offer tags as an organizational mechanism.  One of the advantages of digital storage is being able to classify and retrieve documents using different criteria.  Tags let you do this.  Take advantage of it!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

SafelyFiled raises the bar with multiple layers of authentication

Passwords are used everywhere, but they have their limitations.  SafelyFiled has just improved security with the addition of multi-factor authentication.


In previous blogs (see Password Frustration and Password Perils), we've expressed some of the limitations of passwords.  For better or worse, passwords are the current state-of-the-practice web service authentication, but they are vulnerable to attack and not very adaptable.   Once an attacker has figured out your password, there is no way for the service that relies only on passwords to distinguish between the attacker using your password, and you using your password.


Adding Multiple Forms of ID

Multi-factor authentication can strengthen the authentication process by requiring multiple forms of ID.  Even if attackers have figured out your password, they may not be able to provide the second (and third) forms of ID.  Some security-sensitive web applications, e.g. banks and financial institutions, provide multi-factor authentication.  With our update this week, SafelyFiled now also provides its members with the option of multi-factor authentication.
May I see your ID, please?
Image credit: janmika / 123RF Stock Photo

In SafelyFiled, one form of authentication is the password and the other is a one-time access code that is sent either to your registered mobile phone number or email address.  If the attacker has figured out your password, he would still need to access your mobile phone or your email account to acquire the access code for the current login session.  This greatly increases the difficulty of  a successful attack.

Intelligent Authentication

Ideally your web application should be able to identify riskier authentication scenarios, and require multiple types of authentication in those situations.  This is like when you go to your local grocery store, the cashier recognizes you and doesn't ask for additional identification when you write a check.  But if you visit a grocery store on vacation, the cashier has never seen you before and will ask for additional identification before accepting a check from you.

With SafelyFiled you can select "Public-only" multi-factor authentication to do something similar.  If you login to SafelyFiled from a machine address that SafelyFiled hasn't seen you use before or from a machine address that you have indicated is public (like a computer at the library), then SafelyFiled will require that you enter the access code it has sent to your mobile phone or email address.  If you login from your home machine where you have logged in from many times before, SafelyFiled will not prompt you for an additional access code.  This gives you the additional safety of multi-factor authentication in riskier cases, but gives you the convenience of password-only access when logging in from a physically safer environment.

Multi-factor Options in SafelyFiled

From the "Manage Security" page, you can adjust how multi-factor authentication works for you.  The initial default stance is to "Never require access code".  We will likely change the default stance to "Only require access code for access from public machines" at some point in the future.
The controls for multi-factor options on the Manage Security page in SafelyFiled.
In addition to setting the overall policy, you can control whether the access code will be sent to your registered mobile phone or to your email address.  You can also adjust whether the address you are logged in from is public (and not to be trusted) or private (will only be used by you).  When you enter your access code from the login window, you can also click on the checkbox to indicate that the current address is to be private (or trusted) in the future.

Take advantage of Multi-factor Authentication

We strongly encourage you to signup for the "Only require access code for public machines" option.  This gives you increased protection from attackers, and has a reasonable ease of use trade-off.

Also review your other sensitive web services like bank and investment sites.  They probably have multi-factor authentication options.  Review what they offer and be sure that you take advantage of the increased security of more advanced authentication.