The Best of the Tech Helpline: How Can You Make Your Data Safe?

 January 11, 2018

The real estate industry is particularly vulnerable to data theft. This rise is due to the nature of our business and the large number of independent contractors in the industry. Because real estate involves bank transfers — earnest money deposits and the wiring of closing funds — cybercriminals see this business as an attractive target. With an independent workforce, there are no universal security standards, and there are no security protocols in place that all agents must follow. And agents use a wide range of disparate technologies for data storage services and practices — some more secure than others.

So what can you do, as an agent or broker, to keep your data safe? These basic best practices can help protect both your personal information and your business data.

Malware prevention is a must: Always have an antivirus program running, and keeping it automatically updated is imperative. Malicious malware is becoming pervasive: it’s plaguing many computers, often lurking in the background, unknowingly to the user. Malware includes viruses, trojan horses, worms, spyware and more. Today, your computer can get infected simply by visiting a website, opening a photo, or clicking on a file to download from an email. You can wreak havoc on your computer by installing a freeware or shareware program. That’s why your antivirus program is your computer’s best friend.

Back up your data daily: This may sound like a pain, but a daily backup can save you. It’s easier than ever. Nearly every portable hard drive comes bundled with an auto-backup program. It’s built into many computers, including Macs. And smart software is designed to back up your most recent changes, so once you’ve made your first backup, future backups are much faster.

Secure storage: In real estate, it’s worth paying the small fee to ensure your data stored in the cloud is fully secured. Services like Form Simplicity, Dropbox and Box use the same level of encryption that banks use. And it’s easy for your clients to add their files securely to the folders you set up for them.

Encrypt your data: You can always add an additional layer of protection and encrypt the files you store in the cloud, on your computer and via email. Many third-party software solutions are available — some with encryption built in — such as Adobe Reader and Acrobat. Either will let you password-protect every PDF you create. For email, simple plugins can encrypt your email, like Gmail. Your recipient can read the message by using the same plugin and opening with the password.

Be careful using public Wi-Fi: When using public Wi-Fi, avoid working with sensitive data. A hacker can potentially get into your computer and access your data when you use an open Wi-Fi network. Save your online banking activities for when you get back home. Be sure to turn off file sharing; if you have a Mac, shut off Air Drop. Security experts suggest turning off Wi-Fi when you aren’t using it. And the safest bet: bring your own Wi-Fi. Tethering to your smartphone gives you a secure internet connection and is far safer than using any public Wi-Fi.

Use two-factor authentication: When setting up your new smartphone, it’s easy to bypass using a password to access your phone for convenience, but don’t. In fact, you should also accept the new prompt for two-factor authentication for your phone as well as your computer, if it is available. This extra layer of security requires both a password and username along with a code sent to another device the user can also access. The authentication will prompt the user for information immediately at hand and sends a code to be entered for final verification. 

Destroy old hard drives: Don’t forget to destroy the personal data you left on an old computer. While certain software programs can wipe the data clean, the cheapest way is to remove the hard drive from the computer, and drill a hole through it!

Turn off your computer: Another recommendation from security experts is that when you are done for the day, turn your computer completely off. When you leave your computer on and connected to the internet, it is left open to rouge attacks. Turning it off also prevents any sleeping malware from waking up. The last thing you want is a hacker using your computer afterhours for such nefarious things as a denial-of-service attack.

When it comes to keeping data safe, the principal rule is to stay up to date. Make sure your operating system and programs have the most recent versions running. Keep your antivirus program in auto-update mode. Stay apprised of new threats and scams so you are aware of what to avoid. And back up your data every day.

With these best practices, you’ll be ahead of most of your peers and be well prepared if you are subject to a data breach.

This contributing article is from the Tech Helpline, a service of the WRA, and is authored by Melissa Mazanec-Becker.

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