According to the government’s 2022 Cyber Security Breaches Survey, over a third (39%) of UK firms experienced a cyber attack last year. Due to an increase in high-profile cyber intrusions, cybersecurity has become a top priority for organisations across all industries, including real estate.
While cyber security threats can affect any organisation, real estate agents are especially vulnerable and should be aware of the biggest security concerns and how to defend themselves.
Realtors deal with a lot of data that hackers want, such as client bank accounts, national insurance number, and other sensitive personal information. Obtaining personally identifiable information (PII) can be a profitable operation for scammers, but it can be extremely costly for any firm that fails to protect client data.
Being hacked can lead to a loss of reputation, litigation from disgruntled customers, state fines, and even the temporary or permanent closure of your business.
According to IBM Security research published in 2022, the average cost of a data breach has reached a record-breaking level of £3.69 million, with 83% of firms studied having suffered more than one data breach.
According to the research, the most common sort of data breach is stolen or stolen credentials, which account for 19% of all data breaches. It took a total of 243 days to identify these breaches and another 84 days to fix them. Phishing was the next most common cause, accounting for 16% of all cases.
How Do Cyberattacks Happen?
Human mistake is still the top source of data breaches. According to Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report, 82% of breaches were caused by “the human element,” which included stolen passwords, phishing scams, and staff who failed to follow cybersecurity precautions. Another important element is hackers exploiting network vulnerabilities.
Because of the documents they handle as part of real estate transactions, real estate agents are especially vulnerable to data breaches. A lot of agents are small enterprises with limited resources to protect themselves.
Realtors must understand what the main cyber dangers are, when they arise, and how to effectively avoid them.
Why Are Real Estate Agents Being Targeted by Cybercriminals?
Real estate brokers handle a wide range of personal information on a regular basis, putting them in danger of cybercrime such as phishing, hacking, and malware. The legal definition of PII varies by state, usually in accordance with their separate data breach notification regulations, although it usually contains a person’s name or first initial, as well as one or more of the following kinds of information:
- Driver’s licence or state identification card. As a precaution, a real estate agent may record this information while working with new clients. When collecting personal checks as payment, it’s also customary to note down the client’s driver’s licence number.
- National Insurance Number. This information may be required from a client by a real estate agent in order to execute short-sale transactions or to do credit checks. National insurance numbers are also frequently found in closing statements and other mortgage paperwork.
- Bank account, credit card, or debit card number. When clients pay for appraisals, inspections, and other services, they frequently use credit and debit card numbers. Closing statements and other mortgage documents may also include bank account information.
Real estate agents cannot do their duties unless they have personal information from their clients. It cannot be overstated that the kind of data used by real estate brokers is exactly the type of information that fraudsters seek.
When keeping or disposing of these records, real estate professionals must exercise extreme caution.
What Are The Cyber Threats That Real Estate Agents Should Be Vigilant About?
Failure to adequately safeguard or dispose of personal information might expose a real estate company to data theft by both physical and digital means, such as:
Loss of data due to device theft
Historically, the real estate sector has not been a target of cybercrime in the same way that the healthcare, retail, and financial services industries have. When it comes to small enterprises, data breaches are becoming increasingly widespread.
Real estate professionals, for their part, are now dependent on mobile phones and applications to connect with clients and keep track of their contact database, calendars, listing contracts, financial paperwork, and other records.
Cell phones, tablets, and laptop computers can all be physically taken. Data on those devices can be hacked if PII is not encrypted, privatised, or otherwise safeguarded.
Many real estate companies outsource their data storage and management to third-party service providers since it is typically so straightforward and cost-effective. Even respected storage providers may be vulnerable to cyberhacking, so be sure that you conduct business with a company that prioritises security.
A phishing assault occurs when cyber thieves utilise email links, SMS messages, and bogus social media posts to fool people into clicking on a link or installing an attachment that allows them to access your computer data and systems.
This information could be used by hackers to steal your personal details as well as the personal data of your clients and staff. Phishing also exposes you to ransomware attacks.
Once hackers have gained access to your network or computer, whether through a cyberattack or a phishing email scam, they may install software that allows them to take control of your entire system. They might use this to encrypt your machines and then demand a payment to unlock them. They may also threaten to destroy all of your data or publish it on the Internet if you do not pay.
What Measures Can Real Estate Agents Implement to Mitigate the Threat of Cyberattacks?
Real estate agents can handle cyber risk in two ways: cyber liability insurance for real estate enterprises and data protection practises.
Cyber liability insurance (also known as cyber risk insurance) is a small-business insurance policy that assists real estate brokers in paying the high costs of recovering from a data breach. Because it is possible that stolen data cannot be recovered, cyber insurance helps your real estate firm cover damage control procedures such as alerting clients, launching a campaign to restore your image, etc.
We recommend applying the following procedures in your program to limit your risk and avert a cyberattack:
Perform a supply chain inventory of the private data your company utilises, including where it originates from, how it is received and stored, and who has access to it.
Consider if it is essential to collect all of the information you now utilise. If you no longer require information, securely dispose of it.
Create a “document retention policy” that specifies the type of material to keep, how to safeguard it, how long you should retain it, and how to appropriately dispose of it once it’s no longer needed. For example, once a customer’s banking or credit card information is no longer required, you could remove it.
Create a process for securing sensitive data with fundamental safeguards such as encryption, passwords, and firewalls.
Any printed documents holding PII should be stored in a locked room or filing cabinet, with access restricted to those who require it.
Real estate companies should do the following to improve their electronic security:
- Determine the systems and servers where PII is stored, as well as all methods of accessing it.
- Examine these systems’ susceptibility to well-known assaults.
- Encrypt sensitive information before sending it to third parties over networks.
- Install and keep cybersecurity software up to date. To safeguard your systems, think about setting up a firewall.
- Scan your PCs and network for spyware, viruses, and malware on a regular basis.
- Require frequently changed passwords and consider utilising a password manager.
- Use two-factor authentication for every network access, such as a mobile phone app or text message, or biometric data, such as a fingerprint.
Dispose of it
Create standards for document retention and the correct disposal of personal information so that it cannot be read or rebuilt.
Personal data should be protected from unwanted access through proper disposal processes. Paper documents should be shredded or pulverised, however, digital documents can be completely deleted utilising wipe utility tools. Simply pressing the “delete” key is insufficient.
You may want to have your attorney review your disposal policy to ensure that your procedures comply with your state’s data breach notification laws. Make sure your personnel are adequately taught about your security standards, and review these processes on a regular basis to ensure they are being followed. Consider regular awareness training to renew employee knowledge.
If your data security methods fail, have supplementary documentation in place that includes post-breach protocols and an incident response plan, such as alerting clients, and ensure that your plan completely complies with state and federal laws. Templates for confidentiality agreements and data-breach alerts may also be included in your plan.
Let Workplace Connect Help You
Workplace Connect offers invaluable support to real estate companies in fortifying their cybersecurity strategies.
Our professionals can conduct thorough risk assessments, implement robust security protocols, and continuously monitor the company’s IT infrastructure for potential threats. Moreover, Workplace Connect can ensure the real estate business is up to date with the latest cybersecurity technologies and compliance requirements, keeping sensitive data protected and minimising the risk of cyberattacks.
With Workplace Connect, real estate companies can focus on their core operations with the confidence that their digital assets are safeguarded by a team of dedicated experts, allowing them to maintain their reputation and client trust.