Brokers have a duty to safeguard data

March 29, 2018

Data security is a major issue for companies in all industries, and real estate professionals handle plenty of sensitive information that needs to be protected. For that reason, it's vital for brokers to redouble their efforts to keep all confidential data safe on an ongoing basis.

Real estate brokerages can control everything from the basic contact information for potentially thousands of past, current and even future clients to vital financial and personally identifying data like Social Security numbers for clients and agents alike, according to Inman. To that end, it's vital for brokers to take control when it comes to protecting sensitive information, beginning with some cybersecurity basics that all too often go ignored.

Where to begin
Perhaps the biggest issue many companies and individuals face when it comes to maintaining a strong cybersecurity posture is that they don't do enough to update their various devices regularly with the latest software, and install anti-virus, anti-malware and firewall programs for added protection. This type of issue may leave entire systems, not just single computers, vulnerable to hacks. Along similar lines, it's also important to regularly back up devices to ensure no information goes missing.

It's also vital for brokers to make sure everyone who has access to their security systems knows about the importance of these steps, and are routinely trained in basic cybersecurity protections, such as how to create strong passwords, spot potential phishing scams or suspicious emails and so on. That, too, will help all involved keep their defenses as high as possible. Furthermore, it's vital to create a system by which the company's cybersecurity is professionally audited at least once a year.

Going the extra mile
Unfortunately, cybersecurity experts warn that, in most cases, it's a situation of "when" and not "if" businesses will be targeted for data breaches, and more often than not those nefarious efforts are successful. As a consequence, it's critical for companies make sure that even when they do suffer a breach, the information they keep on file is difficult or impossible to access, according to Digital Guardian. The good news is that encryption software is now extremely affordable and can be used for just about any kind of data. That, in turn, makes data protection a very sensible budget line item.

Data encryption policies should also extend to any portable devices - such as USB drives and SIM cards - that could be used to store sensitive information.

And when companies make the move to upgrade their current devices, it's important that their old ones - once they've been successfully backed up - are disposed of properly. The hard drives on any old computers, phones or tablets should be wiped, shredded or otherwise rendered unusable so that, when they're thrown out, the data on them cannot be accessed.

The good news is that once many of these initial steps are taken, it can be much easier for brokerages to maintain a strong cybersecurity posture going forward. if everyone involved is on the same page, it becomes a lot more difficult for hackers to victimize real estate businesses.