Homebuyers and real estate agents should team up with tech experts to ensure secure financial data and processes. Robert Siciliano offers real-world advice and insight for keeping transactions safer.

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There always has been, there is, and there will always be bad guys choosing their next victim. Criminal hackers are thoroughly enjoying you not paying attention and essentially doing nothing in regards to protecting your identity, your client’s identity and the data with which you are interested.

We have an entire month dedicated to Realtor safety, and there are still plenty of victims. We have another entire month dedicated to cybersecurity awareness, and most people are using free antivirus software. 

I provide extensive security awareness training to state associations, boards of Realtors, and brokers, and it’s like pulling teeth to get attendance. Most people, especially Americans, live under the delusion that “it can’t happen to me” and then it does, and people wonder why. Until you specifically decide to make a change, the real estate industry will always be considered a high-value target. 

Cybersecurity risks are higher than ever for modern industries. Digital attack rates increased with the onset of COVID-19, making things incredibly difficult for businesses that depend on digital platforms. Real estate falls under this umbrella.

It’s essential for average homebuyers and real estate agents to be aware of and protect themselves from these cybersecurity concerns. With the knowledge and experience cybersecurity professionals have collected, they can help stakeholders in the real estate industry to be ready by providing expertise and tools. However, there is the prerequisite of understanding how real estate is affected by common cybersecurity issues.

Below, you’ll see some of these problems, as well as solutions and protective measures that agents and their homebuyers can benefit from.

Real estate cybersecurity risks

Today’s real estate practices are almost always characterized by an online component. Closing sales with Zoom meetings, digital home listings, and other factors reinforce how connected the industry is. Malware can find its way into the equation at any point in this virtual train, allowing malicious entities to get away with finances or private information.

The First American data breach is a perfect example of this. This event, which occurred in 2019, saw 885 million customers have their financial data exposed. If nothing else, this shows how risky the $32 trillion industry can be. Considering the prominence of the real estate industry as a target, home buyers and agents must stay more aware of risks than ever before.

The most common risks that real estate businesses face include:

  • Mortgage closing wire fraud: Compromise of business e-mail where scammers use phishing and other tactics to trick real estate agents and buyers into sending funds to unscrupulous accounts.
  • Ransomware: As the name implies, demands a ransom to remove encryption that malicious parties have placed on files to prevent them from being accessible.
  • Vendor compromise: Where third-party partners suffer data breaches that translate to negative effects for clients or real estate agents.

These risks, among others, explain why cybersecurity training is necessary as a cost center for Realtors coming into the field. As is the case just about everywhere else where sensitive financial data lies, cybersecurity is non-negotiable in real estate. After all, this is one of the largest investment types that can be made.

By keeping up on cybersecurity challenges across the industry, you put yourself in a position to create better cybersecurity and other IT solutions for real estate professionals.

Protecting yourself and your clients

Thankfully, the door is wide open to potential opportunities for cybersecurity innovation. By employing the right tools and stronger digital practices, real estate companies can certainly get where they need to be. However, there is the consideration of how well these businesses will maintain the set cybersecurity standards, considering that criminals will continue to refine the way they attempt to compromise their targets.

You can help to curb the effects of real estate-based cybersecurity problems by adopting and sharing policies such as:

Employee education

Approximately 95 percent of data breaches have a human error component involved. Sometimes, taking the time to educate a workforce with proper cybersecurity training is a much stronger risk mitigation strategy than you would believe. Training can cover the importance of e-mail caution, strong password use, avoiding untrustworthy links, multifactor authentication and more.

Mobile device security practice

Working remotely is a staple for modern real estate agents. Additionally, mobile applications are incredibly popular places for home buyers to look for properties. Therefore, mobile device security becomes a critical consideration for real estate companies. Some of the measures that can be taken are data backups, device encryption and the aforementioned multifactor authentication.

Implement procedures for digital verification

Mobile devices are not the only things that benefit from multifactor authentication. There’s a lot of virtual business taking place, and it almost demands that real estate professionals have a secure digital signature, so that the authenticity of authentication attempts can be verified.

Partner security policy investigation

In addition to the real estate agents and the clients that may be looking for properties, other stakeholders should also have a vested interest in the cybersecurity policies of any company that they do business with.

Asking how your information is protected as a home buyer is an example of a good practice. As far as agents are concerned, perhaps partnering with tech and finance companies that have a stellar security track record is the way to go.

Explore innovation

Finally, technology-based cutting-edge solutions are probably the best way to protect the real estate industry. MFA, certificate-based digital signatures, device authentication, and more provide great cybersecurity insurance. Again, consider partnerships and new technology for greater innovation.

These are just a few options that the industry can use to address the glaring cybersecurity problems currently present. Professionals should explore all opportunities that can make a difference and contribute to a safer digital world. For now, those who are in the housing market may want to think about these common problems and best practices, as the right protective measures are developed.

The bottom line

Considering that cybersecurity is such a modern challenge, the real estate industry is constantly at risk of data breaches. However, cybersecurity experts have greater opportunities considering the demand for safety solutions. The good news is security practices are easier than ever with the right tools and proper training. The “do-it-yourselfers” have many options. 

However, depending on the size and scope of your organization it might be a good idea to bring in a virtual chief information security officer that will conduct vulnerability scanning. These are professionals skilled in the craft of making sure bad guys don’t get into your networks. 

Homebuyers and real estate agents should team up with the said experts to ensure secure financial data and processes.

With the increase in dangers that homebuyers face in the digital marketplace, it’s now more important than ever to incorporate innovative solutions.

Author Robert Siciliano is CEO of Credit Parent, head of training and security awareness expert at Protect Now, a No. 1 best-selling Amazon author, media personality and architect of CSI Protection Certification, a cyber, social, identity and personal protection designation for real estate agents and their brokers. Follow Robert Siciliano on Twitter.

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