There used to be a time when hackers only targeted retailers, but these days, they can target almost any business in any industry, especially those that are not aware of the best cyber security practices.
One of these groups is the real estate industry, and according to a recent survey, approximately half of all businesses in real estate are not prepared to handle any type of cyber attack. Though Federal law requires specific industries, like banks and hospitals, to have security in place, the real estate industry is not one of them.
If you work in real estate, here are some common cyber security threats to keep an eye out for.
Business Email Compromise – BEC
A BEC, or business email compromise, is a type of cyber attack that tricks a company into wiring cash into the bank account of a criminal. Hackers do this by “spoofing” email addresses, and then then sending messages to recipients that look like they are coming from someone they trust, such as the CEO or the head of accounting.
This happens a lot; the FBI has found that billions of dollars have been lost due to BEC scams. Yes, this is pretty scary, but there is more. The FBI has also said that those in the real estate industry are targeted, and anyone who participates in a real estate transaction is a possible victim.
Wire Scams During Mortgage Closings
There are also scams during closings. Here’s how it works. Before the sale of a home is complete, the buyer gets an email from their Realtor, a title attorney, or another trusted person in the industry with the details of the date, time, and locations where the closing will take place. Scammers know this, so they create a different email that tells the buyer where to wire the money. But it’s right to the bank account of the scammer. Within minutes of the transfer, the money is pulled out of the account, and the scammer is gone.
The Internet Crime Complaint Center, part of the FBI, shared statistics that from 2015 to 2017 there were more than 10,000 victims of these scams, and the losses here totaled more than $56 million… and it’s growing all of the time.
Another thing that those in the real estate industry need to be aware of is ransomware. This is a type of malware that shuts down a network or a device so that you can’t get into it until you pay up. This is a very profitable scam for hackers, and it is becoming very popular year over year. All it takes is one person on your team to click on a link, and the entire network could be compromised.
Keep in mind that ransomware attacks don’t just target computers. These attacks can target any devices that connects to the internet, including smart thermostats, smart lights, and smart homes. When a digital device gets a ransomware infection, they stop working.
Though most people have heard about ransomware, there are other forms of malware, too. For example, you have likely heard of spyware or Trojans, which are still out there. Specifically, these are used for cyber criminals to spy on those they are targeting. They can get access to a victim’s bank account, or even steal their email inbox. Hackers also use malware to steal personal info or employee information, and they can get things like personal client information Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, and more. Just knowing this, you can understand why those in the real estate industry are targets.
Cloud Computing Providers
If you work in the real estate industry, your livelihood is at risk thanks to cloud computing. This, you might know, is a more economical way to backup information, so while it is necessary, there are risks. However, hackers can get into these “clouds,” and if they do, they can get access to all of the data in there.
It may seem that by using a cloud computing company that you are actually lowering your risk of becoming a target, but the truth is this: there is still a risk because your devices are likely not as secure as you think, and your passwords are probably not as strong as you think. This means making sure you’re not using the same passcode for any other accounts and enabling two factor authentication for everything.
Don’t Let Your Real Estate Company Become a Victim of Cyber Security Threats
Now that you know your real estate company can be a target of a scammer, you may wonder how you can lower your risks. Here are some great tips:
- Write New Policies – One thing you can do is to write new policies to keep things safe. For instance, when you think of BEC scams, if you have a policy in place where you ban wiring money to someone based only on information from an email, you won’t have to worry about BEC scams any longer. Instead, make it a rule that you must talk to the person sending the email, and you must be the one to make the call to confirm. Don’t call the number that is in the email, though. Confirm that it is correct. It could be the number of the scammer.
- Teach Your Staff – You also want to make sure to have better training for your staff. Most of the attempts at hacking come from email, so when you train your staff to stop blindly opening attachments nor click on links in emails, you can protect yourself from these scams. You also should look into a Cyber, Social & Identity Protection Certification. This is where you can learn more about the methods and strategies that you can employ to cut down on any incidents. You can also learn about developing procedures that help keep your clients safer.
- Teach Your Clients – Speaking of clients, you want to help them, too. All wire scams having to do with closings can be prevented in most cases. Make sure your clients know that in the process of selling or buying a home, there are going to be a lot of emails floating around, including those from Realtors, mortgage companies, insurance companies, home inspectors, real estate attorneys, and more. Make sure they know that before clicking on anything or wiring money that they should first call their Realtor. They should never, ever send money unless they get the go-ahead to do it, and then they still need to make sure to confirm that the transfer is going to the right place.
- Back Up Your Devices and System – Always make sure that everything is backed up, including your devices and your network. This way, if you do get hacked, you won’t have to pay a ransom, and the information is easy to get back.
- Check on Cloud Computing Contracts – It is also a good idea to look into what you are getting from your cloud computing provider. They don’t like to take responsibility for a cyber attack, and there might even be something in your contract with them that says they won’t. So, you should start your own negotiations with the company in question about what you can do about something like this.
- Buy Cyber-Liability Insurance – Finally, you should consider getting cyber-liability insurance. This could definitely help make things less risky for your real estate business. There are all types of different policies out there, so do some research or speak to a professional.
Written by Robert Siciliano, CEO of Credit Parent, Head of Training & Security Awareness Expert at Protect Now, #1 Best Selling Amazon author, Media Personality & Architect of CSI Protection Certification.