4 Tech Habits Putting Your Business at Risk

November 9, 2016

Real estate pros are constantly trying to save time and money using the latest tools and techniques. But some of these efficiencies make you more vulnerable to hackers. A panel at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Orlando, Fla., over the weekend highlighted four common actions that might be putting you at risk.

Using Free Wi-Fi

Trying to save on your data plan could cost you big time. Alex Camelio, director of industry engagement for real estate software company Lone Wolf, told conference attendees that even just leaving your phone’s Wi-Fi beacon on can make the device vulnerable to hackers. “When you have that Wi-Fi on, that phone is constantly saying, ‘Hey, home network: Are you out there?’” he said, noting that a compromised Wi-Fi network can easily ensnare your device in such a situation. The best way to avoid this is to “turn Wi-Fi off every time you leave your home network.”

Other solutions include using a virtual private network (Camelio suggested Avira and OpenVPN) or buying your own secure Wi-Fi hotspot so you don’t have to rely on others. And if you ever get an unexpected request to repair your connection, it’s best to just ignore it, as it might be a hacker trying to get you to connect to a compromised network.

Using the Same Password for Multiple Sites

Everyone knows you shouldn’t use “password123” for your login anymore, but remembering fifty different secret words just to get through a day on the internet isn’t exactly feasible either. That’s why it’s common to fall into the trap of using the same password for multiple sites. But Craig Grant, e-PRO and CEO of the Real Estate Technology Institute, told attendees that as soon as a hacker gets access to a list of login data from one site, they are likely to try and use that data on other sites to see if they can get in. That’s why when you hear of a security breach at a site you use, it’s important to change your password right away and then think about what other sites you use with the same password, Grant says.

The panelists also recommended turning on two-step authentication for any site that offers it. And using “leetspeak”—a trick of crafting passwords by replacing letters with symbols and numbers (such as “@” for an “A,” or “3” for an “E”)—won’t keep your password any more secure. Finally, don’t even think about asking your browser to remember your passwords. Not only does this make it very easy for a hacker who has your device to log in wherever he or she may like, the method for saving passwords makes them transparent to nefarious actors from afar as well: “Almost all of the ones that save your password use a key that’s either already on the internet and hackers know about, or they’re using the password you use to log into your computer,” says Camelio.

Using Freebie Antivirus Software

Grant acknowledged that real estate pros are always trying to save money on business tools but that “virus protection is one area where you should not.”

“You should never really go with the free option,” he said. “It’s meant to try out and see if you like it.” Grant recommended budgeting $75 a year for what’s usually called “end-to-end protection.” He recommended the following companies as providers of decent anti-virus options: Avast, Kaspersky, Malwarebites, and Avira.

Grant also said it’s not true that Mac products and mobile devices don’t need virus protection, and having more than one anti-virus software will not offer more protection. More often than not, the competing software see each other as viruses and end up canceling each other out.

Not Backing Up Your Data

Backing up data is something you should already be doing to secure yourself against a failed hard drive. With computers and devices getting more and more stable, it may be tempting to back up less often. But, as Juanita McDowell, e-PRO, president of InMotion Consulting, LLC warns, there’s a growing threat called ransomware that makes this task more essential than ever for your business’ security.

“Ransomware is really malicious software, and it’s designed to block access to your computer,” she explains, noting that thieves often demand payment before they will release the data back to its rightful owner. “Every class I teach, I have at least one person who has had this happen. … It plays on the fact that you’re not backing up.”

McDowell said even if you haven’t backed up, paying a ransom to get your computer’s data back is not a viable solution because there’s no guarantee the hackers will give it back. Camelio agreed, noting that replying in any way just makes the data more valuable to the thieves.

“If you respond to them, now they know you’re a real human being and all that information you gave them, you now just verified it,” he said. And it’s not just your data that you’re verifying; it’s your clients’ too. “When it comes to the Code of Ethics, you are 100 percent responsible for the security of your data.”

—By Meg White, REALTOR® Magazine