First and foremost, I want to extend my wishes that you, your family and your teams are healthy and safe during these unprecedented times. The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) continues to provide guidance, FAQs and resources to help members respond to COVID-19 at nar.realtor/coronavirus.
When millions of people were told to work from home, many agents rushed to create home offices and virtual workarounds. Cybercriminals also jumped on new opportunities to prey on victims. Amidst the scramble, it has been all too easy to overlook critical security issues.
If you have not already taken steps to limit your brokerage’s liabilities, it is time to revisit cybersecurity essentials and implement safety protocols. Five common vulnerabilities include:
1. Insecure home networks.
Be sure agents are not using their router’s default password or wireless network name. Give the home network a strong password. If your brokerage does not already have one, consider investing in a virtual private network (VPN) so agents can safely access company files.
2. Shared computers.
Families may be spending more time together at home, but your agents should still be working on a separate, dedicated computer. This will ensure that clients’ sensitive personal information is not exposed if another family member accidentally clicks on a dangerous link or downloads a malicious file.
3. Outdated technology.
Be sure agents are using antivirus software and keeping all programs up to date. This includes updating browser extensions, router firmware and any phone apps used for business.
4. Paltry passwords.
Every device and online platform agents use should be protected with a strong password. A reputable password manager makes it simple to generate, save and access unique and encrypted passwords. Use two-factor authentication, if offered, for an extra layer of security.
5. Insufficient backup systems.
If agents are working from home, implement a consistent data backup plan. If a hacker infects a machine, those backup files may be your only option for retrieving vital records.
As a broker, this may be an excellent time to consider insuring against cyber risks. Fortunately, REALTOR®-owned brokerages now have access to premium discounts and customized cyber liability insurance coverage through CyberPolicy®, a new partner in NAR’s REALTOR Benefits® Program.
Often, education is the best preventive measure. Encourage your agents to take advantage of NAR’s e-PRO® certification, which devotes a full day to data privacy and security. For a limited time, all online courses from the Center for REALTOR® Development are discounted 30 percent, while application fees for the e-PRO® certification are discounted 50 percent through June 30, 2020. Learn more at nar.realtor/right-tools-right-now.
Again, my best wishes during this time of uncertainty.
Marc D. Gould is senior vice president of member development for NAR, overseeing a wide range of professional development programs for REALTORS®, including the Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council (REBAC). REBAC is the world’s largest association of real estate professionals focusing specifically on representing the real estate buyer. With more than 27,000 active members, REBAC awards the Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR®) designation to REALTORS® who have completed the specialized education and documented experience in working with consumers purchasing a home. To learn more, visit rebac.net.