Wednesday, February 28, 2024 | The Latest Buzz for the Appraisal Industry

Cybersecurity Concerns Appraisers Should Know

The world is more connected than ever before, with networked devices and practices making their way into nearly every industry in the world. This has made many aspects of our lives easier and more efficient, but it has its downsides.

Cybersecurity was easy to overlook when networked systems were starting to appear, but now, it is an essential part of any business or industry that uses online networks. This includes sectors like home appraisals, which might not put a lot of focus on cybersecurity.

What cybersecurity concerns should home appraisers be aware of?

Growing Fraud Risks

Even at its lowest, the housing market is a multi-billion-dollar industry, and each purchase can range anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. The dollar value of these purchases makes them attractive targets for thieves and fraudsters. By the middle of 2021, two out of every five mortgage and real estate transactions were classified as high risk, according to data shared by a fintech firm in partnership with the FBI.

When these breaches do happen, they can be alarming to say the least. In 2019, Australian bank customers experienced a massive industry-wide data breach that was tied directly to a property valuation firm, potentially impacting anyone who had home appraisals conducted by the company between 2015 and 2018. While the company took measures to correct the situation, the backlash of a security incident is something no appraisal firm wants to deal with.

Why is this such a big deal for appraisals? In addition to the risk of direct theft of funds, there is the risk of the theft of private information, such as Social Security numbers, credit card information, and other privileged data that could compromise an individual’s entire identity.

Cybersecurity risks are becoming more common and more relevant every day. What specific cybersecurity concerns should appraisers be aware of moving forward?

Email Risks and Protocols

Email is one of the fastest ways to keep in touch these days, short of making an actual phone call, but it can be the method of communication that is most vulnerable to attack. The average person receives more than 100 emails for work every single day — and that number doesn’t even include the hundreds of spam emails that may appear as well.

In an effort to speed through and empty your inbox, it’s easy to get caught by a malicious link in what might otherwise look like a legitimate email.

Clicking one bad link is often all it takes to give hackers and other bad actors access to your otherwise secure system. These phishing emails are designed to look like the real thing so you click the embedded links without a second thought.

Be careful with any email, especially those that come from outside your organization. Be suspicious of any emails that contain links or attachments, especially if they claim to be in regards to an error with one of your accounts. If this is the case, the best practice is to visit the site directly to see if there are any issues present rather than clicking the link.

Wi-Fi Security

Having the ability to access the internet — and your professional network — from anywhere in the world can make your job infinitely easier. This is especially true for property appraisers who may spend most of their time in the field visiting individual properties, rather than in the office or connected directly to the core network. Implementing Wi-Fi security protocols can help protect that network no matter where you’re accessing it from.

If you’re using Wi-Fi in the office, start by changing the default password. It’s really only there to give you access to the router while you set up your network. Once you’re in the system, changing the password is essential.

When you’re out of the office, there are seemingly endless free Wi-Fi signals to choose from, but a good rule of thumb is that you should never conduct secure business over free or unsecured Wi-Fi. These are handy in a pinch, but they don’t provide the kind of security you need, especially for transactions within the property appraisal industry. If working in the field requires an internet connection, opt for a mobile phone plan that allows you to use your phone to create a secure Wi-Fi hotspot that can be locked behind a password.

Password Hygiene

Speaking of passwords, the art of choosing the perfect one is often overlooked. Everything from your Facebook page to your work email requires a password to access, and if you lose that password or someone guesses it, your entire operation could be compromised. There are a few practices that can help prevent this from happening.

Start by choosing a strong password that contains a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Change this password every three months or when prompted by your cybersecurity division.

You should also consider implementing two-factor authentication to add an extra layer of security to your passwords. These tools generate a one-time-use code that is sent to a phone, an email address, or another contact to ensure that even if someone figures out your password, accessing your account will be nearly impossible.

Protecting Yourself and Your Appraisal Business

Cybersecurity has always been important, but as hackers get more clever, it is becoming even more essential. These issues are not exclusive to the appraisal industry, but being prepared for them can help you protect your company and your clients from bad actors that might use something as simple as a default Wi-Fi password or a phishing email to make their way into your network and make off with your privileged information.

Take all the necessary steps now before cybersecurity becomes a problem.

Tom Armstrong, MAI

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