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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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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

Emotional reactions may be the best way to gauge your video ads

Political campaigners use AI to detect emotional responses to their ads – and your company can too.

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As artificial intelligence technology develops, more and more advanced and specific kinds of data are available to help marketers optimize their campaigns. While it’s easy enough to track whether your audience is watching your ad video all the way through, whether they are reposting it, or clicking on your link, the latest technology may be able to give you even deeper insight into what your audience is thinking and feeling.

This week at the Campaign and Elections Innovation Summit, an exhibition where companies show off the latest technologies for assisting political campaigns, a company called CampaignTester demonstrated its “mobile focus group platform.” This platform gives you more than just the basic data. It uses a viewer’s phone or tablet camera to measure not only engagement – that is, whether or not the person is actually facing the screen with the volume turned up – but also the viewer’s emotional response to each second of the video.

CampaignTester uses an artificial intelligence technology called emotiontrac, which can measure micro movements in a viewer’s face to identify eight emotions: happiness, surprise, sadness, confusion, fear, disgust, anger, as well as simply “neutral.” The app then consolidates emotional and engagement data into a report in the app’s dashboard, showing a graph measuring engagement and emotion throughout each part of the video.

While CampaignTester was presented to political campaigners this week, it would clearly be useful for any kind of marketing campaign. Says COO Bill Lickson, “CampaignTester is not just for the political and advocacy marketing initiatives. We’ve had interest from movie producers, record labels, ad agencies, celebrity influencers and companies from a variety of industries that want to add this unique data to their business intelligence.”

In fact, any company can sign up to use CampaignTester to gather data about your marketing campaigns. In order to use the app, you’ll need to upload videos and determine who will be watching them. Viewers will need to opt-in and agree to “disclosure and privacy policies.” Most companies using CampaignTester will recruit viewers by offering perks such as gift cards.

It’s a great way to gather data from viewers who actually agreed to have their data collected and didn’t get tricked into it by failing to read the fine print. Pricing for using CampaignTester varies by the length of the video and the number of people you’d like to view it.

Without data about viewers’ emotional reactions, an ad campaign could fail without you ever fully understanding why. But if the viewers’ faces reveal that your video has left them confused or angry, you can make changes to improve it.

Short of an in-depth focus group, this may be one of the best ways to measure how people are actually responding to the content of your video-based marketing.

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Real Estate Technology

Cybercrimes are on the rise, but it’s pretty easy to defend yourself (so do it)

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Cybercrimes can cause some serious problems for you and your clients, but there are easy quick ways to insure the safety of any information

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Life is full of uncomfortable conversations. From telling your Tinder date it’s just not working out, to calling your parents to say you can’t come home for the holidays, there are plenty of discussions to dread. One unfortunate conversation that’s on the rise, however, involves cybercrimes and real estate transactions. Nobody wants to have to tell a client that their private information – or even payments – have been stolen.

Luckily, there are ways to defend against cybercrimes.

First, however, it’s worth knowing what you’re up against. According to Robert Siciliano, CEO of Safr.Me, there has been a dramatic increase in cybercrimes over the last two years alone. Criminals are growing more organized and skilled, so it’s crucial to ensure your data is secure.

The good news is, securing your information can be easier (and cheaper!) than you expect.

Many crimes have been successfully committed simply because users haven’t taken cybersecurity seriously. Weak passwords, for instance, can make a data breach much more likely. These are passwords like “password” or “abcde.” Not only does Siciliano recommend a stronger password, but also implementing two-step verification, which will require more information to log in.

At the National Association for Realtors Conference and Expo, Siciliano explained, “Hackers say once they own your password, they own the email. Because they can pose as you. This can lead to people stealing your information, stealing your clients’ information and even convincing clients to wire money to their account.”

That’s no bueno for business.

It’s also worth discussing cybersecurity with clients early on. Warn them, for instance, about what to do if they get an email from “you” about wiring money to an account you all haven’t discussed. You might even want to bring up passwords – we can all benefit from stronger passcodes.

Just like talking to your kid about keeping the front door closed is easier than breaking the news that their dog ran out the open door and got hit by a car, having slightly uncomfortable conversations with clients early can save you having the really uncomfortable conversation about accidentally leaking their banking information.

Cybercrimes might be on the rise, but even a few small tweaks can help keep you and your clients safe from digital disaster.

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Real Estate Technology

Throw a smart bulb away, give out your passwords

(TECH NEWS) It turns out that Internet of Things, like smart bulbs in homes, are not secure and give up your info – here are some security tips.

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Most of us know that we need to protect our computers from hacking, identity theft, and other security hazards. But now that more and more everyday items in our households – from light bulbs to washing machines to baby monitors – are connected to the internet, we need to make sure that these items are secured as well. Because they’re not.

Unfortunately, Internet of Things (IoT) devices are notoriously unsecure, and a troubling investigation by hacker, Limited Result, reveals that some IoT devices are not only potential targets when connected to your home internet network, but could even pose a security threat after you’ve thrown them in the garbage.

Limited Results investigated several budget smart lightbulbs and found that many of them have no security features protecting the information held on the microchips inside the bulb.

Some lightbulbs could be taken apart, and the chips removed and hacked to reveal unencrypted data, including the Wifi password for the network to which it had formerly been connected.

“Seriously, 90 percent of IoT devices are developed without security in mind. It is just a disaster,” Limited Results told TechCrunch.

There were other safety issues beyond the security of personal data. Limited Results also found that inexpensive smart lightbulbs were so cheaply-made and poorly insulated that they posed a serious risk of electrical fire.

So how can you make sure your IoT devices are secure?

For starters, don’t just go for the cheapest version available. Although there’s no guarantee that the top dollar devices are secure either, be mindful of installing smart devices outside of your home. For example, you may want to sacrifice being able to tell Alexa to turn on your porch lights. Dispose of smart light bulbs carefully, and don’t donate them to second hand stores.

Another option is to create a subnetwork or guest network for your connected devices. And as always, make sure everything is password protected and change your password often. Especially your wifi passwords.

The conveniences of IoT devices need to be weighed against the potential security risks, at least until IoT manufacturers create regulations and standards for security.

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