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Comprehensive smart home checklist soothes your clients, makes you look smarter

With smart home features standard, losing passwords and logins from agent to client is common. This checklist will smooth the transition.

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While it’s hard to overlook the presence of technological devices like computers and cell phones in our daily lives, we often forget the sheer number of automated devices operating in our home each day.

Some of the most visible devices at home are TVs and appliances, such as washing machines, dishwashers, and microwaves. But there are also smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, sprinklers, home security systems, garage openers and keypads, thermostats, energy systems, and smart lighting systems. The list is endless!

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Smart homes are the new standard

As our technology culture continues to advance, an increasing number of these devices have been embedded with software, network connectivity, and electronics to give them the ability to collect and share data. Unfortunately, smart home devices can be particularly vulnerable to hackers looking to obtain access to private networks. For new homebuyers, renters, and people in the real estate business, the growing number of smart home devices means an increased probability of falling victim to a security breach.

So what can you do to protect the security of devices in your home? Start by utilizing a Smart Home Checklist: a list of steps for consumers to follow when they purchase a new home. The Online Trust Alliance (OTA) and the National Association of Realtors (NAR) recently joined forces to create this list, which provides consumers with a tool to maximize the security and privacy of their home. The checklist focuses primarily on securing devices that could compromise valuable user information if hacked.

The basic outline

The Smart Home Checklist breaks things down into five manageable sections and includes simple tips like taking an inventory of all connected devices, changing passwords, reading through privacy policies, giving the device manufacturer current contact information, and running software updates. The topics covered in the checklist include:

  1. Things to do prior to closing
  2. Smart home devices and applications
  3. Modems, gateways and hubs
  4. Security alarms, keyless entry, gate systems.
  5. Home thermostats, HVAC systems, smart TVs, lighting and other devices.

Give your clients peace of mind

Not only is the Smart Home Security and Privacy Checklist a wonderful tool for consumers, it’s a great way for real estate agents and brokers to help potential buyers stay informed. The ability to offer a tangible, pro-active list of steps to increase security is likely to increase the comfort level of many potential homebuyers. With the Smart Home Checklist, buyers need not sacrifice the benefits of home devices for the sake of security. They can have both.

#SmartHome

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Hannah is currently a writer and student in Colorado Springs, pursuing her master's degree in Creative Writing at the University of Denver. Before becoming a Staff Writer for the American Genius, Hannah wrote website content and grant applications for a law office in central Minnesota.

Real Estate Technology

Hackers target associations – how to protect your brokerage, yourself

(TECHNOLOGY) Hackers are increasingly targeting associations, and while they set their own policies to protect themselves, here’s how to do the same for you and your company.

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It all seemed so routine. For officials of both the Henderson (TX) and Boulder Valley(CO) public school districts, the email that they received from an existing construction vendor asking them to update their automated payments to new bank information was nothing seemingly out of the ordinary.

Only when vendors began to inquire about the status of payments that the districts had sent did the districts come to realize that the routine change had made themselves the victims of a scam known as a BEC, or a Business Email Compromise.

In each case, the losses ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars before being discovered. Henderson ISD lost approximately $610,000 to the hackers and Boulder Valley Public Schools lost approximately $870,000. The fiscal hit was accompanied by reviews of and changes to their operating procedures to ensure that such a loss wouldn’t happen again in the future.

While the districts tied their losses to public transparency, with information about the vendors and the scope of work that each was involved with available on their websites, government officials said that such schemes are typically quite sophisticated and ongoing long before any request for money, in order to establish a level of trust with their victims.

Secret Service Agent Bill Mack, speaking to the Tyler Morning Telegraph, noted that “[w]e’ve seen an uptick in the number of cases…Contact is often made long before the request for money. Criminals will use a compromised network to gather information about the target. Then, appearing to be a legitimate representative of the vendor, they will often request a simple change in account numbers.

With FBI estimates as to the annual cost of cybercrime reaching over $2 billion dollars annually, and those losses only partially recovered through either the efforts of law enforcement or insurance, it’s important to recognize the fact that as scammers and hackers expand beyond the tired trope of the 419/Nigerian Prince, they’re now targeting new avenues, such as governmental entities and private associations (perhaps even your local real estate board/association).

While professional associations have been the targets of hackers since at least 2010, according to Ed Schipul, they’re coming under increasing levels of attack.

As a professional member of an organization, we depend on their advice, counsel, and information about upcoming trends and events. We rely on the communication that we receive from them to be timely, accurate, and most importantly, not be harmful to us, professionally or personally.

Assuming that the associations themselves are taking steps to protect their cybersecurity, how do we, as members protect ourselves from hackers?

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has tips on staying safe from hackers in an ever-connected world:

• Be suspicious if someone contacts you unexpectedly online and asks for your personal information.
• Only open emails that look like they are from people or organizations you know, and even then, be cautious if they look questionable.
• Be especially wary of emails or websites that have typos or other obvious mistakes.
• Verify the validity of a suspicious-looking email or a pop-up box before providing personal information.
• Don’t immediately open email attachments or click on links in unsolicited or suspicious-looking emails.
• Install good anti-virus software that periodically runs to search for and remove malware.
• Be diligent about using spam (junk mail) filters provided by your email provider.
• Don’t visit untrusted websites and don’t believe everything you read.
• Criminals might create fake websites and pop-ups with enticing messages intended to draw you in and download malware.

In the case of officials at the districts, one measure that was implemented in each is worth remembering in a click-and-send era; they promised to have their respective staffs pick up the phone and call the vendor when any type of banking information was requested, to verify the request before providing information.

When dealing with our associations, if we receive an email or other outreach that seems out of character for them, it’s a good reminder to call and ask them if they’d intended to send it out before we take electronic action.

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Real Estate Technology

Is that home security system illegally recording?

(TECH NEWS) Just because it’s your home, doesn’t mean much. Home security systems are subject to recording laws of nations and states – are you in compliance?

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I sleep a lot better at night knowing that my house is outfitted with a video security system. To be sure, it has never been easier to set up your own home security system. However, as Lifehacker recently pointed out, “if your cameras can record audio, depending on your state, you run afoul of wiretapping laws if you don’t have consent from people who visit your home.”

Product review site The Wirecutter posits that “setting up cameras to keep an eye on your home is perfectly fine. Recording, on the other hand, can introduce some legal complications. Especially if you’re recording audio in a state that requires dual consent.”

In fact, underscores Lifehacker, “Video and audio recordings have different legal guidelines and there are worlds of nuance to navigate.” For example, in the name of personal security, you are entitled to watch a live feed of your front door, but if you put a camera in your basement and recorded your guests (beats me what they would be doing down in the basement) you’d up in legal trouble – even if it’s technically on your property.

Remember, laws vary from state to state, so you’ll have to check your local laws for specifics, but it’s worth doing before you set up your security system.

Speaking of which, Brickhouse Security suggests thinking about what the reason is behind the installation of a video security system:

“For some homeowners, the main reason to install a hidden camera is to be able to identify a burglar in the event of a home break-in. For others, there is a security issue, restraining order or another circumstance that makes them feel unsafe in their own home.”

Another issue that BHS points out is the legality of installing covert cameras within the home, “While the specific laws pertaining to this issue can vary from state to state, it is widely accepted that filming within the home is completely legal. However, there are exceptions to this statement, and they include recording in places where people can reasonably expect to have privacy as well as recording audio, which is not such a clear-cut issue.”

Click here to read more about hidden camera laws.

Best rule of thumb say many security experts: When deciding whether a hidden camera is the right choice for you, be sure to give thought to the location, whether the room gives people a reasonable expectation of privacy, whether there is any audio recording involved and what the overall objective of the camera is.

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Real Estate Technology

Why graphene is about to take over the world, and techies are betting big on it

(TECHNOLOGY) The tech world is paying close attention to the strongest material around, and its path to production looks a lot like plastics (which were once innovative and cutting edge) – let’s discuss!

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Buzz around graphene has floated through the science and tech world for 15 years now, and its promises are revolutionary. Discovered in 2004, the material is predicted to be the semi-metal that makes science fiction a reality.

Graphene is an insanely strong material. It only has a thickness of 1 atom, making it 2-dimensional. Its carbon structure is easily found in everyday objects like a graphite pencil.

Not only can it stretch up to 25% of its length, it is also the hardest material known today.

A sheet of graphene one atom in thickness is able to hold up the weight of a soccer ball. A sheet with two atomic layers is impenetrable to diamond-tipped weapons. Graphene expands under cooler temperatures and shrinks when exposed to hotter temperatures, making it the only known material to have these qualities.

Another valuable quality is that it is a great electrical conduit. It carries electricity very efficiently and quickly which if turned into batteries, could extend the lifespan of our devices. Graphene could carry electrical currents in materials like clothing, inks, and could rid us of our need for lightbulbs. The one-atom structure can also filter smaller electrons, potentially advancing quantum physics research.

In 2018, a group of scientists in Australia used graphene to create a water filter that could desalinate ocean water and make even the most polluted water drinkable. If large enough membranes were made, it could even solve the fresh water crisis for many countries!

From conserving natural resources, to advancing developments in technology, graphene could improve humanity for the better. So, where is it?

The reality is that mass-producing graphene is still a costly endeavor. However, the world has started to take notice of the material’s potential — the EU has invested $1.3 billion into research from 2013-2023. Although the price of has dropped, by the end of 2015, a 0.35 oz still cost $1,000.

Silicon is still a more favorable material from a production stand-point. Plastics and carbon fiber also faced similar challenges when first discovered. The innovation wave is coming, and when it arrives, we can (hopefully) look forward to a brighter, better future.

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