Cyberspace is prevalent and entrenched in every organisation. The rate and scale with which organisations rely on digital networks for essential services raises potential cyber security risks and expands the cyber-attack surface for malicious actors to exploit. Cybercriminals target businesses in every industry, including the real estate industry, impacting its physical and environmental functionality. It can be detrimental to real estate agents and their clients as the information they handle in real estate transactions makes them vulnerable to data breaches. For instance, procuring personally identifiable information (PII) can be a remunerative operation for scammers, but it can be expensive for real estate business that fails to secure customer data, causing serious brand damage, equipment replacement, unrestricted corporate network access, life safety issues, and building-wide outages. Access to credit and debit card numbers and addresses from property management companies’ online portals allow hackers to commit fraud. Moreover, many agents are relatively small companies that might not have the funding to safeguard themselves adequately. Therefore, real estate organisations must prepare for current and emerging cyber threats to be well-prepared to defend against cyber attacks.
What are the Risks?
Criminal hackers use email or text messages, fake advertisements, and spurious social media pages and websites to entice individuals to click on a link or download an attachment. It allows the hacker to access a person’s computer or mobile device and any associated networks or systems. If a user gives their name, address, or other personal information, the hacker is free to use that information however they see fit. For instance, real estate agents are frequently emailed by phishing scammers to list properties they are not authorised to sell. These emails often contain links or attachments that aim to break into the system and steal sensitive or private data.
Ransomware is used to get hold of and control an organisation’s network or server. It is carried out by infiltrating the organisation’s systems by identifying gaps in its cybersecurity posture or convincing someone to download a ransomware-infected attachment. Once, Ransomware is downloaded, the hacker gains full control and can disrupt the organisation’s system, shut it down or steal confidential information. A ransom can be demanded to regain access to the organisation’s systems, with the threat of releasing sensitive data unless it is paid. For example, ransomware can be used to break into a real estate company, seize its data, and freeze assets, preventing the completion of financial transactions, such as buying or selling real estate or collecting rent, causing the balance sheet to collapse.
Business Email Compromise (BEC)
BEC targets businesses that perform wire transfer payments. Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks are used by cybercriminals to access corporate email accounts by posing as a corporate email user to swindle the user’s company and any clients or partners it has. In 2021, 19,954 Business Email Compromise complaints were reported, with losses of $2.4 billion (Internet Crime Report, 2021). Moreover, the real estate industry suffered $213 million in losses, with 13638 victims of wire fraud in 2020 (National Association of Retailors, 2021). Scammers from the BEC/EAC will use publicly accessible data from the real estate listing websites to target victims. This could include houses that are up for sale, the status of the deal, such as “under contract,” and the real estate agent’s contact information, along with target instructions to switch the payment method and location to a fake account.
Data Loss and Breaches
Professionals in the real estate sector rely on digital devices and web apps to stay in touch with clients and to keep track of real estate processes. Such devices contain confidential and private information vulnerable to cyber risks. For instance, to secure a tenant’s rental property, many real estate companies request personal information, including passport numbers, bank account numbers, registration information, and driver’s licence numbers. Often real estate companies contract with outside service providers to store and maintain their lead. However, a trustworthy storage provider could also be vulnerable to cyberattacks which may result in data loss and data breaches, which scammers may use to obtain money or rent properties using fake names.
How to Mitigate these Risks?
Conduct a Cyber Security Audit
A cybersecurity audit assists a company in understanding its cyber risks and determining the most effective strategy to mitigate them. After conducting a cyber security audit, a real estate company should find a third-party security consultant to advise and guide on managing any risks found. The consultant can provide customised recommendations to assist the organisation in optimising its cybersecurity posture.
Adopt the Best Security Solutions
Numerous security solutions are available, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Conduct thorough research into real estate security solutions to find one that provides long-term results. Take into account a security solution that complements the organisation’s current processes and procedures. This allows the real estate company to ensure that the solution is simple to implement across its operations.
Awareness Programs and Training
A cybersecurity awareness training programme can teach employees how to recognise cyber-attacks, comprehend the threats they pose to the organisation, and react accordingly if one occurs. Awareness programmes must be current to reflect the most recent trends in cyber attacks and inherent risks. Staff should receive awareness training at least once a year, and it should be updated as needed.
Cut Down on Inessential Information
Analyse whether collecting all the data the company currently uses is essential, followed by securely disposing of any information the company no longer needs. For instance, real estate agents could delete any banking or credit card information from customers once it is no longer required.
Have backup plans that detail post-breach procedures and an incident response strategy, such as alerting clients, and ensure the plan will fully abide by state and federal laws if data protection protocols fail. Additionally, the company’s strategy might include sample letters for data-breach notifications and privacy policies.
Cyber attacks can affect real estate organisations of all sizes. The industry allures cyber attackers because of the availability of abundant personal and private information of clients and companies in real estate transactions. Also, many real estate companies avoid strengthening cybersecurity measures, jeopardising the company’s assets, client pool, and image. Therefore, these organisations must work conscientiously to identify and mitigate cyber risks. Most importantly, they must protect themselves from data breaches that could harm their brand’s reputation and revenue.
Internet Crime Report. (2021). Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Report. Internet Crime Complaint Center. Retrieved from https://www.ic3.gov/Media/PDF/AnnualReport/2021_IC3Report.pdf
National Association of Retailors. (2021). Wire Fraud. Retrieved from National Association of Retailors: https://www.nar.realtor/wire-fraud