Though considered slow to adopt technology, the real estate sector is now getting innovative, which makes this industry vulnerable to cyber attacks. Real estate agents are particularly susceptible to data breaches, as hackers know that these agents often save emails and handle sensitive data such as wiring instructions, client information and copies of checks. A wide variety of attacks threaten real estate businesses and these include business Email compromise and ransomware attacks. Even while hiring general transcription companies for documentation tasks, realtors must have a clear idea regarding the data security and confidentiality policies of these firms.
As real estate firms create, use, store and share more information than ever, professionals in this sector should seriously consider safe data storage and management. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) recommends realtors to work with an attorney licensed in the state to develop cybersecurity-related programs, policies, and materials.
Many U.S. states have adopted data breach laws for brokers and other real estate professionals. For instance, in California businesses are required to notify each California resident of a potential data security breach where their personal information may have been obtained by an unauthorized person.
Forbes, in a recent article has discussed certain ways for real estate agents to fix their client security flaws.
Sensitive Data Encryption
Handle the client data in your device or inbox with great care. For better security, encrypt the data before forwarding the file and then delete the details from your servers.
Make sure to deliver the password through a different medium such as text message or over the phone, while sending a password-encrypted document to the client. Such a method prevents hackers from accessing the document via email, as it lacks the password. In Adobe Acrobat, it is easy to encrypt documents by entering a password from within the document settings.
Two-factor authentication helps to eliminate the exposure of passwords and thus secure your accounts against attackers. In this two-step process, you must first enter your password. The second step is that you will receive a unique code to your phone, i.e. a “one time password”. Along with the password, this code is also important to access the account.
As the code changes each time, a hacker can’t get into your account, unless they access your password and mobile phone.
Never Copy Checks
Instead of copying checks, consider more secure and effective means to verify funds. Most brokerage agreements do not allow real estate agents to transmit the client’s financial data, resulting in agents sharing a copy of the buyer’s earnest money checks via unsecured email. Sharing buyers’ financial information can affect the confidentiality of clients.
In the Forbes article, a real estate firm owner discusses how their firm has created a policy to issue a statement of funds letter that confirms to all parties that funds have cleared and the buyer has complied with the contract. When required by the lender, cleared check copies are sent to them via secure or encrypted email to an official company email address.
Clear Data Policies
The firm must consider creating clear and easily enforceable policies that are easy to understand for the agents as to what they should and should not do. Educating agents on the types of data and how to respond to it helps. While reviewing the firm’s policy manual, consider consulting an attorney and data security professionals to ensure that you abide by law and the guidelines are suitable to protect client data.
Recommendations from NAR
Other recommendations from The National Association of Realtors (NAR) include:
- Use long, complicated passwords such as phrases or a combination of letters, numbers, symbols
- Avoid clicking on unknown attachments or links, as it can download malware onto the device
- Avoid doing business over unsecured Wi-Fi
- Regularly back up critical data, applications and systems, and keep backed up data separate from online systems
- Never download apps without ensuring that they are legitimate and won’t install malware or breach privacy
Reliable real estate firms often showcase their commitment to protecting their clients by verifying client information before sharing specifics. Such an office will also make sure to benefit from quality digital transcription service to get accurate transcripts of any type of property reports such as property summaries, construction site recitations and site-engineer notes.