October: Cybersecurity Awareness Month

woman on secure laptop

In recent years, cybersecurity awareness has become a prevalent topic amongst business leaders in all industries. That’s because hackers and cybercriminals have appeared to step up their efforts to infiltrate the networks of hundreds of thousands of small businesses. In fact, in 2020, 80 percent of small businesses were affected by a cyberattack. Experts predict that number will steadily rise over the coming years.

It is unfortunate that the number of successful cyberattacks is so high because it certainly doesn’t need to be. But a recent CNBC survey revealed that more than half of America’s small business owners are not concerned about cyberthreats. Even more disconcerting, only 28 percent have a cybersecurity plan in place. And this is exactly what hackers and cybercriminals continue to rely on.

Cybersecurity Awareness Month — Raising Awareness Amongst Business Owners and Leaders

Hacking and data breaches are nothing new and neither is Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Launched 18 years ago, the program aims to increase awareness about the importance of proper cybersecurity and the risks a business faces if their data and networks are not secure.

Hackers and cybercriminals are indiscriminate. They will attempt to infiltrate businesses of all types and sizes, whether a single-employee office, a local pizza shop, a manufacturing plant, or a private school. Using a combination of old-school tactics and new technology, hackers have many motives. They may simply be attempting to cause a disturbance in the company network, or they may have more malicious intent, such as stealing private data or implementing a ransomware attack.

Certain industries, such as the real estate industry, are prone to even more detrimental cyberattacks. That’s because the real estate industry appeals to hackers and cybercriminals due to the large amount of private and financial information being sent between parties involved in a real estate transaction.

Even if your agency practices strong cybersecurity protocols, your clients and vendors you are in contact with may not. Without everyone prioritizing data security, the risk of a data breach increases significantly. It only takes one unsuspecting individual to accidentally and unknowingly respond to a phishing email or download malware.

What Real Estate Professionals and Title Companies Need to Do

As mentioned above, ensuring proper cybersecurity is an action all parties must engage in. Subsequently, it is up to brokers, agents, title companies and others in the real estate industry to inform and educate clients and vendors about the severe risks and repercussions of a data breach. It is also important to develop an incident response plan in the event of a successful cyberattack.

Creating awareness of how to mitigate the risks is also a major step in ensuring strong data protection. Practice and preach the following cybersecurity best practices as described by the Cybersecurity Awareness Month program.

1. Focus on Phishing

Phishing is one of the major topics of Cybersecurity Awareness Month, as the tactic is responsible for more than 90 percent of successful data breaches. Hackers and cybercriminals send cleverly disguised emails that appear to come from trusted sources. The emails are designed to trick recipients into giving up private information that can further be used for incidences of identity theft or other malicious intent.

Cybercriminals that gather together enough personal and private data can masquerade as a real estate professional, tricking buyers and agents into sending earnest money deposits or down payments to a bogus bank account. Learning how to spot phishing emails can be a huge deterrent and prevent a successful data breach.

2. Avoid Unknown Downloads

Downloading apps and files from untrusted websites or emails is risky, because the download may contain malware that can be used to infiltrate the organization’s network. Employees and clients must be taught to avoid downloading any files or applications they aren’t 100 percent sure about.

3. Use Strong Passwords and Two-Factor Authentication

Use strong, unique passwords for each private account. A password manager can help you easily keep track of all the passwords, ensuring better security. Additionally, enable two-factor authentication for any accounts that offer it. This is an extra step of security that acts as a major deterrent to hackers who have managed to gain a username and password.

4. Keep Firewalls, Antivirus Software and System Software Up-to-Date

Hackers and cybercriminals often take advantage of security flaws in older versions of software and hardware. Keeping everything up-to-date helps to reduce the risk of a successful data breach. Hackers are always seeking new ways to access a network and updates often contain important security patches to prevent them from doing so.

5. Verify Contact Information

Inform your clients to always verify all contact information or bank transfer instructions contained in an email by calling you directly. Verifying the contact info and banking details ensures that they aren’t falling victim to an identity scammer.

6. Use a Secure Electronic Money Transfer Platform

The real estate industry has always been prone to wire transfer fraud, as wire transfers are not a very secure system for sending money. Cashier’s checks are also subject to fraud. That’s why many real estate agencies, brokers, and title companies are opting to utilize an electronic money transfer system for improved security and convenience.

Paymints.io, for example, is one such platform that was designed especially for professionals in the real estate industry. When using paymints.io, personal information is encrypted using the same industry-leading technology used by major banks and financial institutions.

Clients can transfer funds from their bank account directly into the escrow account from the convenience of their own home and advanced ID verification and real-time tracking significantly reduces the risk of fraud. Escrow holders and settlement agents can also disburse funds to clients or vendors.

In Conclusion

Being prepared and knowledgeable of the risks and threats can help prevent a successful data breach or cyberattack. In tandem with this, an incident response plan must be in place that clearly outlines the steps to be taken and all employees within the organization must be aware of it. If all employees do not react accordingly and follow cybersecurity protocols, there will be little in the way of stopping a hacker from achieving their goal.

But by practicing cybersecurity within the organization as well as informing other associates and clients of what to do to minimize the risk of fraud during a real estate transaction, you stand a much better chance of keeping hackers and cybercriminals at bay and ensuring a successful real estate transaction.

Take the first step to improving cybersecurity and use paymints.io for transferring earnest money deposits and making client and vendor disbursements in a secure and compliant manner. Schedule a demo today and get started!