Why Cybersecurity is Crucial for the Real Estate Industry

Cyber criminals attack organizations in every industry – and the real estate sector is no exception. Real estate organizations must plan for current and emerging cyber threats so that they are well-equipped to guard against cyber attacks.

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to address cybersecurity risks in the real estate industry. However, real estate organizations that prepare accordingly can maintain a proactive approach to cyber threats and reduce the risk of costly, time-consuming data breaches.

Why do cyber criminals target real estate organizations?

At first glance, the real estate industry may seem an unexpected target for cyber attacks. However, real estate organizations have valuable information that cyber criminals want, such as files that contain bank account information and other personal information of property buyers and sellers. If criminal hackers access this information, they can use it for identity theft and other malicious activities.

In addition, criminal hackers can breach property management companies’ online portals, giving them access to credit and debit card numbers and addresses they can use to commit fraud.

How do cyber criminals attack real estate organizations?

Cyber criminals can attack real estate organizations in many ways, including: 

1. Phishing

Phishing attacks involve email or text messages, fake ads, and fraudulent social media pages and websites. Criminal hackers lure individuals to click a link or download an attachment.

When they do, the criminal hacker can gain access to an individual’s computer or mobile device and any associated networks or systems. If an individual provides their name, address, or other personal information, the criminal hacker can use this information however they choose.

2. Ransomware

Criminal hackers use ransomware to take control of an organization’s network or server. First, they penetrate the organization’s systems, by identifying gaps in the organization’s cybersecurity posture or getting someone to download an attachment that contains ransomware.

Once ransomware is launched across the organization’s system, the criminal hacker gains full control. From here, they can disrupt the organization’s systems and shut them down at any time. They can also steal the organization’s data.

At this point, the criminal hacker can demand a ransom from the organization to restore access to its systems. They may also threaten to release the organization’s sensitive data unless it pays a ransom.

3. BEC (business email compromise)

Cyber criminals leverage BEC attacks to hack into corporate email accounts. In a BEC attack, a criminal hacker imitates a corporate email user and attempts to defraud the user’s organization, along with its customers or partners.

Expect cyber criminals to continue to use these methods to infiltrate real estate organizations. They may increasingly target Zillow and other online real estate platforms because, if their attacks are successful, they can access a wealth of data.

How to stop cyber attacks against real estate organizations

Cyber criminals show no signs of stopping their attacks against real estate organizations. However, there are several things organizations can do to protect themselves and their stakeholders.

1. Perform a cybersecurity audit

Research indicates only about half of real estate organizations are prepared to prevent or mitigate cyber attacks. A cybersecurity audit helps an organization understand its cyber risks, so it can determine the best course of action to mitigate them.

Following a cybersecurity audit, seek out a third-party security consultant to offer advice and guidance on the best way to manage any identified risks. Finally, the consultant can offer personalized recommendations to help your organization optimize its cybersecurity posture.

2. Identify the right security solutions

Many security solutions are available, and each has its respective pros and cons. Perform extensive research into security solutions for real estate organizations to find one that delivers long-lasting results.

Consider a security solution that works in conjunction your organization’s existing tools and processes. By doing so, you can verify the solution is easy to implement across your operations.

3. Follow data breach notification requirements

Data breach notification requirements for real estate organizations are evolving. Learn about these requirements and comply with them. A clear understanding of SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) reporting requirements and other applicable regulations is essential.

Review the data breach notification requirements based on where your organization and its stakeholders are located, as these vary depending on location.

4. Offer cybersecurity awareness training

A cybersecurity awareness training program can teach your employees how to identify cyber attacks, understand the risks they pose to your organization, and how to respond if one occurs.

It is critical that you keep your awareness program up to date, so it reflects the latest trends in cyber attacks and associated risks. Awareness training should be provided to staff at least annually and refreshed as needed (e.g. after major infrastructure changes or when a new, significant threat has been identified) so that employees can respond effectively should an attack occur.

The bottom line on cybersecurity in the real estate industry

Real estate organizations of all sizes are susceptible to cyber attacks. These organizations must work diligently to identify cyber risks and minimize their impact. Most importantly, they must guard against data breaches that could damage their brand reputation and revenues.

Get started on planning for real estate industry cyber attacks, and keep your organization safe from criminal hackers.