ATO key to removing taxing government reports

Encryption to stop hackers, but government flags access rights

Businesses can use an encrypted software key to save time dealing with up to 12 State and Federal government agencies for financial reporting and to access services from next week.

The key replaces the need to separately log into online government services with a user name and password, and will be integrated into commercial software to provide businesses with a point of access to the Australian Tax Office (ATO) portals, its electronic commerce interface, and the Australian Business Register from 17 May.

It will also allow reports to be lodged to the ATO, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and all state and territory revenue offices from July, and other government agencies are expected to sign-on.

The ATO designed the key, available in administration and standard versions, in conjunction with government and industry under the the Standard Business Reporting (SBR) initiative.

An ATO spokeswoman said the SBR is expected to save business up to $800 million a year.

“It is expected that over time, businesses will be able to use Auskey in place of the handful of user IDs and passwords they currently need to login to business to government online services. For many businesses, it will become the single mechanism for accessing government online services,” the spokeswoman said.

“The outcome sought is a single credential that Australian businesses could use to report to government through SBR-enabled software and to access government web based online services.

“Any business with an Australian Business Number is eligible for Auskeys.”

The ATO has warned businesses against handing-out administration keys to non-management because it will provide holders of the former digital certificates - which preceeded the Auskey - with greater insight into the business.

"An ATO primary digital certificate holder currently has unrestricted access to your business information and functions through ATO online services. An Auskey administrator holder may have access to other government online services as more agencies adopt Auskey for their security credential. We recommend only associates registered on the Australian Business Register or employees in a position of authority within your business have an Administrator Auskey - other employees can be issued with Standard Auskeys," the ATO said in a written statement.

The tax department is unaware of what business software companies will use Auskey but and the providers to be announced soon. It has stopped creating the digital certificates which Auskey will replace, and those in use will last until expiry or cancellation.

The spokeswoman said the Verizon-designed key, which can be stored locally, on servers, or on portable devices, uses “high-level encryption” and “robust registration and issuing processes” to mitigate data loss and protect against hacking. Encrypted passwords can be reset using an ATO online tool.

The Treasury-led SBR project is a multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional program that involves the ABS, the ATO, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, and the offices of state revenue. It is built on a $500,000 extensible business reporting language (XBRL) infrastructure that allows to government to streamline information exchange between external organisations.

The key will remain active if it is used at least once a year.

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