Top tips to protect your property business from cyber crime

Top tips to protect your property business from cyber crime

Protecting your property business from crime used to be a piece of cake. All you needed was a good alarm, a decent deadlock, and in extreme cases, a bad-tempered Rottweiler called ‘Razor’. The modern world, however, is different. Cyber crime, rather than burglaries, is what keeps business owners awake at night. Digital assaults are far more common than brute force attacks with a crowbar. In fact, nearly 40% of UK businesses experienced a cyber attack in 2020.

The property sector is particularly vulnerable to cyber crime because our businesses hold a lot of personal (and sometimes financial) information about customers. Last year, Foxtons fell foul of a cyber attack that led to the suspension of its MyFoxtons portal. Employees lost access to landlord details and angry customers worried about their data. Meanwhile, conveyancing company Simplify was hamstrung by a cyber attack for over a month. Some customers couldn’t exchange, complete, or move home as a result. Things got very messy indeed.

The problem, of course, is that cyber crime is so sophisticated - especially in this age of state-sponsored digital warfare. Malware, ransomware, viruses, and data theft are all weapons of business destruction. And mischievous hackers from Rotherham to Russia are itching to get their hands on your launch codes.

So how can you protect your property business in this dog-eat-dog environment? Razor can’t help you. But the following tips just might…

1. Protect your website

Your website is one of your greatest assets. It’s a key marketing tool and often a vital portal to online services. So make sure you choose a secure host. 

Cheap hosting plans place your site on shared servers with hundreds of other companies. This makes you vulnerable. Why? Because when hackers crack into one site, they use it as a backdoor to crack into others. What’s more, viruses spread across shared servers like airborne pathogens spread across wet markets.  

The solution here is to host your property website on a dedicated server. That’s a server reserved especially for you. This lowers your risk and increases the speed and reliability of your website, too. Plus, you can customise every aspect of your security software to make it stronger. Clever, eh?

2. Boost network security

If you’re holding sensitive data then it’s essential to keep your network secure. This is simple in the office as business Wi-Fi is password-protected and encrypts your data. However, it’s not so simple when your team are out and about. 

Public networks in cafes and restaurants might be convenient but they’re not the most secure. And, with remote working on the rise, you’ll need to make sure that all your team’s personal laptops, tablets, and smartphones are protected, too. This can be a challenge. 

Our tip is to minimise the risks by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which creates a secure connection wherever your people are working. This makes it trickier for no-good cybercriminals to hack sensitive data while you’re enjoying a good coffee.

3. Update your anti-virus and firewall protections

Want to stop a cyber security fire? Get a good firewall. These electronic shields are just as vital as they used to be considering the number of devices connected to the internet these days: desktops, laptops, tablets, printers, smart bulbs… the list goes on. The Internet of things is very much a thing in modern offices.  

Anti-virus software is a must, too. Insidious viruses can creep up on your files and computer operating systems before you know it; therefore protection is essential. Fortunately, the off-the-shelf providers will usually do the job. However, it’s imperative to update the software regularly. Cybercriminals constantly change their approach, so software that’s even slightly out-of-date can leave you exposed. 

4. Use cloud-based applications

Public cloud platforms like Google Workspace and Microsoft teams aren’t for everyone. Larger property businesses with well-funded tech teams, for example, might want to run their own applications and customise every aspect of their security. For most businesses, however, using well-known cloud-based tools is secure as well as convenient. 

Companies like Google use cutting-edge technologies and pay smart cookies top dollar to stay one step ahead of cybercriminals. Putting your trust in the big brands, and storing your data on their cloud, is therefore a great way to stay safe. You won’t get any say over the specific security measures used, but you shouldn’t have to worry about security, either.

5. Educate your team

Did you know that one in 3,722 emails in the UK is a phishing scam? Fraudsters and hackers are everywhere. So make sure your team know the warning signs and never click on untrustworthy links or reveal sensitive data inadvertently. And of course, they should never pay a new account unless they have first-hand confirmation that it’s authentic. 

The use of strong passwords, which consist of random sequences of letters and characters, is also recommended. The last thing you should do is use your partner’s name, the football team you support, your birthday, or anything else that hackers can glean from social media. What’s more, your whole team should change passwords regularly. Why not try a free or paid password generator to help you?

Don’t let your guard down

Because cybercriminals are crafty so-and-sos, no property business can ever be guaranteed total safety. However, following the steps above will make life much harder for the bad eggs. So much so, in fact, that they might just crack first and try to find an easier target. 

Therefore, it’s vital to do everything in your power to keep your network safe, particularly if you offer online services to third parties like digital tenant referencing. It’s also worth protecting your team’s smartphones and other devices with whole-disk encryption software and a remote security app. 

Finally, it’s worth having some specialist cyber crime insurance and a disaster recovery plan in place. These can help you mitigate the fallout of a breach and get your network’s systems and data back online faster. Remember, you’ll be losing income, as well as customers’ trust, for every minute that your website or services are down. 

The main takeaway, however, is this: don’t just shrug your shoulders and think it won’t happen to you. Every property business will be in a cybercriminal's crosshairs at some point. You can’t be completely bulletproof. So make sure you’re not an easy target.   

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