October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, a global effort co-led by the National Cybersecurity Alliance (NCSA) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Michael Saunders & Company is proud to be one of few real estate companies considered a Champion of Cybersecurity by these organizations. As the real estate industry moves forward with more digital tools and resources, it is incredibly vulnerable to cybercrime. We value the security of our customers’ and agents’ information and continue to stay abreast of ways they can protect themselves and their families. Throughout the month of October, we’ll offer helpful tips to safeguard your information – whether buying, selling, or introducing new smart-home technology. Please join us in raising awareness for this timely cause. Do your part #BeCyberSmart
This week’s theme is Phishing…don’t get hooked.
Phishing attacks use email or malicious websites to infect your machine with malware and viruses in order to collect personal and financial information. Cybercriminals use emotions known for eliciting action – like fear, greed, and loyalty – so that users click on a link or open an attachment that will leave their computer, server, and information vulnerable. These messages and emails appear to come from legitimate people, coworkers, or institutions, but upon further inspection have an email address or URL that is 1-2 characters different.
What do these messages look like?
The following messages from the Federal Trade Commission’s OnGuardOnline are examples of what attackers may email or text when phishing for sensitive information:
“We suspect an unauthorized transaction on your account. To ensure that your account is not compromised, please click the link below, and confirm your identity.”
“During our regular verification of accounts, we couldn’t verify your information. Please click here to update and verify your information.”
“Our records indicate that your account was overcharged. You must call us within 7 days to receive your refund.”
How this affects the real estate industry
The highest likelihood of phishing during a real estate transaction is when a payment is being wired into a customer’s escrow account. Many times cybercriminals will wait and monitor your inbox for messages from a source they believe you’ll trust, like a Realtor or bank representative, and send false wiring instructions when they know money is going to be exchanged.
How to protect yourself:
Play hard to get with strangers. Links in email and online posts are often the way cybercriminals compromise your computer. If you’re unsure who an email is from—even if the details appear accurate—do not respond, and do not click on any links or attachments found in that email. Be cautious of generic greetings such as “Hello Bank Customer,” as these are often signs of phishing attempts. If you are concerned about the legitimacy of an email, call the company directly.
Think before you act. Be wary of communications that implore you to act immediately. Many phishing emails attempt to create a sense of urgency, causing the recipient to fear their account or information is in jeopardy. If you receive a suspicious email that appears to be from someone you know, reach out to that person directly on a separate secure platform. If the email comes from an organization but still looks “phishy,” reach out to them via customer service to verify the communication.
Protect your personal information. If people contacting you have key details from your life—your job title, multiple email addresses, full name, and more that you may have published online somewhere—they can attempt a direct spear-phishing attack on you. Cybercriminals can also use social engineering with these details to try to manipulate you into skipping normal security protocols.
Be wary of hyperlinks. Avoid clicking on hyperlinks in emails and hover over links to verify authenticity. Also, ensure that URLs begin with “https.” The “s” indicates encryption is enabled to protect users’ information.
Double your login protection. Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) to ensure that the only person who has access to your account is you. Use it for email, banking, social media, and any other service that requires logging in. If MFA is an option, enable it by using a trusted mobile device, such as your smartphone, an authenticator app, or a secure token—a small physical device that can hook onto your key ring. Read the Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) How-to-Guide for more information.
Shake up your password protocol. According to NIST guidance, you should consider using the longest password or passphrase permissible. Get creative and customize your standard password for different sites, which can prevent cybercriminals from gaining access to these accounts and protect you in the event of a breach. Use password managers to generate and remember different, complex passwords for each of your accounts. Read the Creating a Password Tip Sheet for more information.
Install and update anti-virus software. Make sure all of your computers, Internet of Things devices, phones, and tablets are equipped with regularly updated antivirus software, firewalls, email filters, and anti-spyware.
For more information on ways you can safeguard your information, visit the National Security Agency’s Cybersecurity Information page.