Real Estate Agencies Creating ‘Incident Response Plans’ To Prepare For Potential Cyberattacks

The amount of personal information exchanged during a real estate transaction makes the industry especially vulnerable to these kinds of online attacks.

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Investing in cybersecurity has become one of the most necessary steps to running a successful business in the 21st century. Thanks to advancements in technology within the past two decades, a majority of businesses can be run completely virtually, however, with that convenience comes the added risk of individuals hacking into your systems to access all the personal information you may have. 

The real estate industry is obviously no different from this. Real estate transactions contain an extremely significant amount of client personal information such as financial data, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, passport numbers, insurance information, and passwords. Many agencies opt to use the cloud to store all of their companies information, however, the cloud is one of the most susceptible areas of the internet that hackers can gain access to, so others are taking an even more precautious approach. 

A recent survey conducted by KPMG found that 30% of real estate agencies have experienced some sort of breach in their cybersecurity within the past two years. The results also showed that only 50% of the agencies surveyed claimed to be prepared should they have to prevent or mitigate a cyberattack. Many believe that having the basic level of IT safeguards is enough but the reality is they’re just one part of the solution. The survey concluded that most agencies should have a much more advanced system to really protect their client and business information.

“Strong IT safeguards are just one part of the solution. Administrative and physical safeguards also are necessary when developing a comprehensive data security program or plan.”

According to the National Law Review, these advanced safeguards can include “updating management policies, awareness training, taking equipment inventory, vendor assessment and review of management programs. Even the best safeguards cannot prevent all cybersecurity breaches. Thus, companies should be prepared to respond to the inevitable: that they will experience a data incident or breach of some kind.”

Of course, different agencies have different levels of risk. Small town agencies with a dedicated hub of clients are likely at a much smaller risk of a cyber attack when compared to metropolitan agencies with luxury clients. However, that doesn’t mean that one agency should be any less precautious, many agencies are creating “incident response plans” in order to prepare and prevent any future cybersecurity events. 

According to the Review, part of these plans include identifying an internal and external team of workers responsible for directing any data incidents that appear. Individuals on the internal team typically include IT or HR workers who are familiar with your company’s specific computer system, and therefore are already working for your company.

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“You need a strong team working for your agency that will make quick, informed, and prudent decisions that likely will be critical to the success of the response process and, possibly, the future of the business.”

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Your external team is made up of individuals who are working as legal counselors, forensic investigators, notification vendors, and public relation agents; essentially anyone not working directly within your agency that you would call upon should a breach in cybersecurity occur. Having this team identified and readily available can be vital to the success of any preparedness plan. 

Consulting with insurance brokers or cyber-insurance carriers can also be a great option for confirming any applicable coverage that your agency may be qualified for. Make sure you clarify the roles and responsibilities that every member on both your internal and external teams will need to fulfill. 

Like with any sort of emergency, you should practice with a few cyberattack drills to ensure that everyone feels comfortable with their role in the event of an incident. Many workers probably don’t have any experience mitigating a cyberattack when it occurs, so going through these drills will help them build their specific skills and confidence in their ability to help manage a hacking. 

With most things, preparedness is everything. Don’t continue to wait around for a problem to appear for you to take the steps to protect your agents and clients personal information. The real estate industry within the past year has become especially digitized due to the Covid-19 pandemic, so there has never been a better time to invest in a solid cybersecurity plan.