Cybersecurity and the Real Estate Industry

Cyber criminals are at work on the real estate industry.

The real estate industry is among the current list of easy prey for cybercriminals who are shifting their focus to sectors that are not quite prepared in their cybersecurity postures. The industry is in shortage of cybersecurity experts and operates with inadequate security laws and regulations. 

A report by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority states that 71 percent of organizations across multiple business sectors were impacted by at least one cyber incident last year. 

A breached real estate organization experiences the following:

•Financial loss

•Business interruption

•Reputational damage

•A decline in market share and customers

•Liability claims and lawsuits 

The FBI reported a 2,200 percent rise in reported money loss in real estate online fraud between 2015 and 2017. Real estate companies need to establish a robust cybersecurity strategy by utilizing proactive enterprise risk management processes and advanced cybersecurity practices to mitigate sophisticated and frequent cyber threats. 

Common Cyber Threats in the Real Estate Industry 

The real estate sector is increasingly integrating novel technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, and mobility into smart building systems. Currently, the industry has digitized operations and control of lighting, safety, telephone systems, elevators, sewer systems, and so on. In the process, they offer cyber actors increased attack vectors to breach systems and steal confidential information. 

The following cybersecurity issues are common in real estate agencies:

•Business email compromise (BEC) and Email account compromise (EAC): Hackers leverage BEC to trick unsuspecting real estate firm employees into sharing confidential information or wiring money. Besides, cyber attackers illegally access and monitor buyers’ email communication with agents to find the ideal moment to trick them into wiring money to various recipients. According to the FBI, there was over an 1,100 percent rise in the number of BEC and email account compromise victims in the real estate sector between 2015 and 2017. 

•Ransomware: Cybercriminals send malicious emails with attachments and links to lure victims into clicking. This attack encrypts business-critical information and makes systems inoperable until companies pay ransoms.  

•IoT-based distributed denial of services (DDoS): Cyber actors will attempt to cause mass compromise of IoT devices used in smart buildings. DDoS enables criminals to steal location data and take control of properties. Hackers can utilize the Mirai botnet to take advantage of IoT devices to amass a botnet army. 

•Malware: Hackers launch generic malware, such as spyware, viruses, botnets, worms, and Trojan horses to steal sensitive personal and company information. 

•Phishing attacks: Cyber actors use emails and false websites to trick real estate employees into sharing personal information and credentials. 

•SQL injections: Criminals insert malicious code into cloud-based systems to steal crucial information. 

•Man-in-the-Middle attack: An attacker secretly relays and alters the communication between a real estate agency and employee or customer. 

Cybercriminals Target Personal and Company Data in the Real Estate Industry  

Entities in the real estate sector handle personally-identifiable and financial information, such as social security numbers (SSN), social insurance numbers (SIN), credit and debit card details, proposals, intellectual property such as design rights and architectural drawings, email addresses, and bank account data. Hackers target agencies in the industry to steal and use such information to commit other frauds. 

Additionally, the real estate sector transactions involve massive fund transfers that offer a lucrative target for cybercriminals. On top of that, agencies in the sector rely on unsophisticated cybersecurity technologies and inadequate standards that provide a breeding ground for malicious cyber activities.  

Protecting your Real Estate Agency from Cybercrime 

1.User Awareness Training 

Train your employees to understand essential skills to verify requests, such as a change in recipients’ financial details. Employees should be careful while handling external communications from emails or phone conversations. In this case, they should never share personal information with strangers unless they verify the requests. A study by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority states that 96 percent of organizations find cybersecurity awareness training effective in mitigating cyber incidents. Unfortunately, merely 41 percent of companies maintain compulsory security training programs for their employees. 

Educate home buyers to double-check information throughout the process and verify details before making wire transfers. 

2.Install Appropriate Cybersecurity Tools 

Endpoint solutions remain a crucial element of the real estate industry’s cyber resilience. Organizations should purchase and install tools such as antivirus software, intrusion detection, and prevention systems (IDS/IPS), encryption solutions, and antimalware programs to protect the confidentiality and integrity of data and systems. 

3.Cyber Liability Insurance

Consider purchasing a cyber liability insurance policy for your real estate firm. This measure involves transferring your cyber risk to a third-party. An appropriate cyber insurance policy covers both liability and property loss that results from malicious internet activities. The cybersecurity industry experts are convinced that cyberspace is more dangerous than before. Fortunately, several insurers are developing skills at underwriting and pricing coverage for cyber risks, according to a 2019 report by the Insurance Institute of Canada. The policy covers a wide range of costs after an attack, including the cost of notifying customers about the breach, data and system recovery, communication and PR services, lawsuits and investigations, and loss of money because of business interruption. Currently, more than 90 percent of small businesses in Canada do not have an active cyber liability insurance cover. 

4.Develop Relevant Cybersecurity Policies 

Establish appropriate cybersecurity policies for your organization. Cybersecurity governance mechanisms ensure that real estate businesses put in place adequate security controls. Essential cybersecurity policies for a real estate firm include:

•Acceptable use policy 

•Access control plan

•Change management policy

•Information security policy

•Email communication policy

•Remote access policy 

5.Establish a Cyber Incident Response Plan 

Design and implement a dependable data backup solution for critical applications and information. In case of a cyber incident, you will quickly restore your systems without the need to pay a ransom. 

6.Set Up a Security Operations Center (SOC)

A security operations center is an excellent measure to defend your agency against advanced attacks through rapid threat detection and analysis. 

Partnering with the Experts – ISA

It is no longer business as usual for the real estate industry. Firms in the sector, regardless of their market share, need to stop believing they are immune to cyber risks. Cybercriminals that customarily targeted banks and retailers are now aiming at the sector that lacks adequate cybersecurity regulations and expertise to mitigate even the common attack vectors. 

Real estate agencies can partner with ISA today to explore and utilize proactive cybersecurity solutions that an organization needs to preclude malicious cyber actors. ISA helps your business to implement a layered security approach and a strong defense to mitigate prevalent and advanced cyber threats. 


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