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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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associations hackers

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.

Roger is a Staff Writer at The Real Daily and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Real Estate Technology

Camera that spins, zooms on its own – perfect for remote working

(TECHNOLOGY) Video conferencing tool, Meeting Owl Pro, helps bridge the communication gap in remote teams with a camera that spins and zooms on who is speaking

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As someone who has spent the bulk of their career in a remote setting, I’ve definitely noticed some elements of communication that differ from an on-site job. Rather than being able to pop into your boss or coworker’s offices, you have to shoot them an email or try and catch them on their phone.

Enter the COVID-19 times…

Remote work can get even more complicated when the whole team is remote and you’re attempting to get everyone on the same page. Or, think about when you’re working remote and you have to video conference into a meeting with people who are on site. Even with video conference chatting, there can still be some kinks in trying to follow the voices and stay on top of who’s speaking.

Luckily, Owl Labs took this issue into consideration and whipped up Meeting Owl Pro and Meeting Owl First-Gen, which are the only 360° camera, mic, speaker smart devices on the market today. This is ideal for teams who have both an on-site and remote team collaborating together (or will again soon).

The Owl sits in the middle of the on-site table and moves in a complete 360° manner that picks up who is speaking and moves the camera to focus on them. That way, the people who are calling in remotely can clearly see who is speaking and follow the meeting as if they’re actually in the room.

Both versions of Meeting Owl are compatible with the big video conferencing platforms, such as: Zoom, Google, Skype, etc. They operate as plug and play devices that connect to Wi-Fi, which allows for automatic updates.

According to the tech team, the specifications of the Meeting Owl Pro 360° smart camera has an enhanced Owl Intelligence System™, 2X sharper camera with 1080p resolution and 2X louder 360° in-room speaker. With the Meeting Owl Pro, customers can expect their meeting spaces to become increasingly intelligent over time with new smart integrations and capabilities, the first of those features being a new Smart Zooming functionality that identifies, locates, and magnifies the person speaking.

This will help to bridge common communication barriers that are felt between on-site collaboration with remote teams. Additionally, it will help with team-building as everyone will have more of an opportunity to spend face-to-face time with their coworkers who work remote from them.

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Real Estate Technology

AI being used to better understand the COVID-19 pandemic

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) The intersection of the coronavirus and AI is here and it’s trying to making the world a better place. AI can read and collect data faster than humans.

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AI and the coronavirus

As the world scrambles to figure out the best way to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus and halt the ongoing pandemic, researchers are searching for a cure. In order to do so, it is beneficial to track patterns in the virus’s behavior.

Since the virus’s initial spread in December, thousands of papers have been written about the Coronavirus, or COVID-19. It would take weeks, if not months, for a person to collate all that information into some valuable data. This is where AI comes in to help.

Earlier this week the White House announced that they were working in collaboration with tech companies and members of academia to provide the huge amount of Coronavirus research to AI researchers and their algorithms.

The AI will be able to comb through all of the research we have to-date and search for patterns that could help those in the research field to find a cure and those in the medical field to better treat their patients. According to Wired, companies and institutions such as the National Library of Medicine, Microsoft Research, and the Allen Institute for AI (AI2) are currently working to gather and prepare the nearly 30,000 papers related to the virus so they can be processed by AI.

Hopefully, the AI’s algorithms are able to see something we cannot. It could find new connections that researchers have not been able to make and speed up the process.

The CEO of AI2, Oren Etzioni, is hopeful that this project will show people the brighter side of AI. “High tech, in general, has gotten a bad rap, but something like this crisis shows how AI can potentially do a world of good.”

There is no question that AI can help us find some answers as we face this pandemic. Whether or not this can all be arranged quickly enough to actually help mitigate the current crisis is the question. Some are wondering if U.S. resources would be put to better use by helping to address the shortage of Coronavirus test kits.

Experts are imploring people to think of the big picture. The issue of open access to medical and scientific research has been a topic of conversation among researchers for years. The pandemic has only highlighted the need. Now governments across the globe are calling on scientific publishers to open access for research on the Coronavirus so we can all work together in this time of global crisis.

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Real Estate Technology

How telecom, power companies are helping customers during COVID-19 outbreak

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Telecom and power companies have also tried to help their customers, while the Coronavirus makes its rounds, by extending service.

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According to Fox News, Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, promised to take care of the employees at the American Airline Center during the NBA shutdown. The employees would be paid as if the games were still taking place. Many of the other leagues have made the same promise. Unfortunately, not every employee works for a business with those types of provisions.

Thankfully, many organizations are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with special accommodations to help residential and commercial customers deal with financial issues and staying home to prevent the spread of the virus.

Companies helping out customers

Comcast is offering 60 days of free basic internet service to new customers. It’s also not disconnecting or charging late fees. Current customers are also being provided with unlimited data. AT&T is offering the same types of things for its users, unlimited data and suspending terminations, as is T-Mobile.

Closer to home, the City of Austin has decided not to disconnect customers’ services for non-payment. Evictions are also halted. Austin Energy is reconnecting users who were recently disconnected for non-payment. The company is working with customers to help them get on track with their electric bills.

Customers without power do need to reach out to Austin Energy for a courtesy reconnect, because the bill cannot be restarted without speaking to the customer. The Public Utility Commission has asked all Texas power companies to work with customers during these uncertain times. TXU Energy has also waived late fees and is extending payment due dates.

Contact your utility providers

If your finances are being affected due to COVID-19, talk to your landlord and other providers now to work out a plan going forward. You’ll have less stress when you know you won’t lose your power, water or home. Companies are willing to work with families who have been impacted by the pandemic.

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