We all hear constantly about the importance of cybersecurity, and it’s easy to ignore cyber threats as something that happens to “someone else.” For a lot of people, that might be true. Not so for those of us in the real estate world, though. We are actively targeted by hackers, fraudsters, phishers, and a host of other ne’er-do-wells who understand that we deal with the transfers of large amounts of money with every transaction, and would love to get their grubby fingers on it. Institutions like banks, law firms, and brokerages usually have robust protections in place to prevent cyber breaches (and even they suffer from hacks), but what about agents? Luckily there are several things that you can do to protect yourself and your clients. You’ve probably heard this before, but a quick refresher never hurts!
- Use smart password management. This is so important that it should be number 1 and 2 on your cybersecurity best practices checklist. DON’T use the same password on several accounts, and DO use strong passwords that are not easy to guess (“FluffyBunny” isn’t a good password, especially if your Facebook profile has a picture of you and your pet FluffyBunny right up front). Using different passwords for different sites is vital. Do you remember what large companies had data breaches in 2017? Yahoo, Equifax, Verizon, and Uber all fell victim, and if your personal information was released as a result of one of those breaches fraudsters are smart enough to try to use it to access other accounts. So, if you have a “standard” password that you use everywhere, even a strong one, it is only as good as the first time it is lost in a data breach. After that it might as well be “12345” (as an aside, do not use “12345” – that is the kind of code an idiot would use on their luggage). The fix: use different passwords for each account, and change them regularly.
- Be extremely careful when opening attachments to emails or following links in an email. If you weren’t expecting the attachment or the link, you better investigate it before opening. Opening a file on your device is a lot more dangerous than looking at a webpage – if the file is dangerous it’s like opening the backdoor of your computer and letting the fraudster in. Malicious software can do all sorts of nasty things, like track your online activities or grant access to your accounts. So, unless you know the person who sent you an attachment, and you were expecting it, be very wary. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t open attachments from senders you don’t know.
- Remember Kevin Mitnick? Probably not, but he was the most famous hacker from the 1980s and went to prison for a few years as a result. He says that he never “hacked” into anyone’s system – he just asked really nicely to be let in. He used a technique called “social engineering” to trick people into disclosing their security information. He would pose as an IT guy, or a software update technician, or whoever, and would trick people into giving him their information. Many hackers say this is the easiest way to gain access to systems because people are so eager to be helpful. Be aware: if anyone is trying to access your secure systems or accounts, they better have a darned good reason and you should absolutely verify their identity and authority.
- Use common sense. If you see something “weird” going on in one of your accounts, take the time to investigate. If you start receiving emails from a colleague that just don’t sound right, something is probably off. Many times your best defense is your intuition that something just doesn’t feel right.
Email makes everyone’s lives a whole lot easier, and speeds up business and transactions immeasurably – and it is exactly that fact that fraudsters take advantage of. Taking the time to slow down, use good security practices, and investigate if anything feels “off” can make all the difference between falling victim to a hacker, or protecting yourself and your clients from fraud.
Berlin Patten Ebling, PLLC
Article Authored by Daniel C. Guarnieri, Esq. firstname.lastname@example.org
This communication is not intended to establish an attorney client relationship, and to the extent anything contained herein could be construed as legal advice or guidance, you are strongly encouraged to consult with your own attorney before relying upon any information contained herein.
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