All industries should have some sort of cybersecurity approach in order to protect their crucial data. Be it a restaurant protecting customer credit card information gathered from transactions, healthcare companies protecting personally identifiable information (PII) from being stolen with a dedicated security team, or universities shielding students from their data being breached through use of strong malware detection software, cybersecurity is integral not only to the business and its operations, but the other key members as well. One industry which is highly vulnerable to cyber risks but is not often talked about is real estate.
Online All The Time
The home buying and selling process involves many parties: sellers, buyers, agents representing both of these groups, mortgage lenders, online home buying sites, and more. In 2021, much of the interactions between these members is occurring in non-face-to-face interactions, primarily online. This is just one aspect that makes this industry a prime target for cyber attackers, as the more operations are moved online, the higher the likelihood that one of these players is a weak link when it comes to cybersecurity. While agencies cannot necessarily make their clients utilize strong cybersecurity best practices, the businesses themselves can take steps to protect against the risks of working primarily online. Solution: Agencies should have all employees participate in continuous cybersecurity safety trainings to know about current and potential scams that they need to be on the lookout for; this simple step taking often will help to protect the business from lazy cyber attacks.
The real estate landscape across the country is incredibly competitive right now as Millennials come into the first-time-home-buying phase of life and many people see their homes as long term offices with continued remote work opportunities from companies across the globe. Because of this, people are able to move to different locations they may never have been to before. This means multiple bids for homes are coming in with different features to make them stand apart from the rest. Some of these will come from people who have never even seen the home in-person before and this spells potential danger in the cybersecurity world. It is crucial for sellers and their agents to take steps to be safe when it comes to selling homes, not only for the cyber risk, but to not lose out on other good bids by falling for a dupe. Solution: One such step is using multi-factor authentication to verify that those people who you believe to be true home buyers with legitimate offers are in fact who they say they are. This simply means that you should be sure to have multiple means of communicating with these people (phone, email, social media, etc) in order to validate that they are in fact who they claim to be. The safest bet is to work only with people who have taken the time to see the home in person and who you have met physically before.
The Value of Data
Real estate agencies have high amounts of PII and financial information from the clients they work with. This is attractive to malicious actors because this type of information is very valuable on the black market, as well as for their own vicious uses. This is something not uncommon for industries involving large purchases, but is something that must be addressed (hopefully in a preventative manner) in order to protect the sensitive information held by agencies as well as protect their reputations from being tarnished — no one will want to use the agency that continually loses client data. Solution: As mentioned above, trainings for agency staff are critical to long term cyber success. Going above and beyond this, agencies should try to invest in cybersecurity such as firewalls to automatically detect and protect against cyber threats. Those who can afford to should also look into having cybersecurity teams as a part of their operations so that dedicated individuals can work to protect systems as well. Real estate is seen as a major investment to people, protect their investment by investing in cybersecurity.
Big Bucks, Big Risks
The real estate industry is also a primary target for cyber attackers because they work in the transfer of large sums of money between entities. This is a threat to all parties involved, primarily the agency and the buyer. The buyer is forking over up to 20% of the purchase price, plus a plethora of other costs, to procure the home of their dreams — their money and accounts are on the line during this process. As mentioned above, the lesser, but still very serious, additional side effect of something like this happening to one of your clients is the agency’s name being tarnished and thus losing future revenue. Solution: Create a strong relationship with local mortgage lenders and work with sellers to show them these options to ensure they are being safe. This is yet another place where a real estate agency having strong cybersecurity defenses itself will come in handy, because cyber criminals will not be able to steal money or information through a breach of the agency’s firewalls.