No industry is exempt from cyber crime, and the real estate industry has become a common target. As hackers devise plans to obtain sensitive information about real estate transactions, real estate professionals need to take particular interest in cyber security to protect their clients and themselves from wire fraud.
What is Wire Fraud?
In instances of wire fraud, a common ploy involves hackers breaking into a real estate agent’s email account to obtain details about upcoming transactions. Once the hackers have all the information they need, they send an email to the buyer, pretending to be the agent or a representative of the title company.
In an email to the buyer, the hackers state that there has been a change in the closing instructions and that the buyer needs to follow new wire instructions listed in the email. If a buyer falls victim to the scam and wires money to the fraudulent account, they’re unlikely to see the money again.
A potential indicator of wire fraud is an email that makes any reference to a Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) wire transfer, which is sent via the SWIFT international payment network and indicates an overseas destination for the funds.
However, since the emails tend to include detailed information pertaining to the transaction—due to the perpetrator having access to the agent’s email account—many people make the mistake of assuming the email is from a legitimate source. The email addresses often appear to be legitimate, either because the hacker has managed to create a fake email account using the name of the real estate company or because they’ve hacked the agent’s actual email account.
How to Avoid It
Wire fraud is one of many types of online fraud targeting real estate professionals and their clients. To prevent cyber crime from occurring, every party involved in a real estate transaction needs to implement and follow a series of security measures that include the following:
- Never send wire transfer information, or any type of sensitive information, via email. This includes all types of financial information, not just wire instructions.
- If you’re a real estate professional, inform clients about your email and communication practices, and explain that you will never expect them to send sensitive information via email.
- If wiring funds, first contact the recipient using a verified phone number to confirm that the wiring information is accurate. The phone number should be obtained by a reliable source—email is not one of them.
- If email is the only method available for sending information about a transaction, make sure it is encrypted.
- Delete old emails regularly, as they may reveal information that hackers can use.
- Change usernames and passwords on a regular basis, and make sure that they’re difficult to guess.
- Make sure anti-virus technology is up to date, and that firewalls are installed and working.
- Never open suspicious emails. If the email has already been opened, never click on any links in the email, open any attachments or reply to the email.
If You’ve Been Hacked
Take the following steps if you suspect that your email, or any type of account, has been hacked:
- Immediately change all usernames and passwords associated with any account that may have been compromised.
- Contact anyone who may have been exposed to the attack so they too can change their usernames and passwords. Remind them to avoid complying with any requests for financial information that come from an unverified source.
- Report fraudulent activity to the FBI via the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov/default.aspx. Also contact the state or local realtor association, which will alert others to the suspicious activity.
Contact Scurich Insurance today for more information on avoiding real estate fraud and other types of cyber crime.
Another global cyber attack was activated on Tuesday, leaving companies across Europe, Australia and even the United States struggling to respond.
This outbreak may be the most sophisticated of a series of attacks initiated after hacking tools were stolen from the National Security Agency and leaked online in April. Similar to the WannaCry attacks in May, the most recent hack involves taking control of computer systems and asking users for digital ransom in order to regain access.
According to a spokesperson from Microsoft, the latest software update used to patch EternalBlue—the Windows software vulnerability that caused previous attacks—should protect against this attack. However, the companies affected may have failed to properly install it. As of Wednesday morning, the following companies had been affected:
- Ukrainian institutions that include the Infrastructure Ministry, postal service, central bank and the country’s largest telephone company
- Russian oil company Rosneft
- The world’s largest container-shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk
- U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck
- U.S. food company Mondelez International
- French bank BNP Paribas
- French construction materials company Saint-Gobain
- British marketing company WPP
- German railway company Deutsche Bahn
Although the perpetrators of this outbreak are still unknown, computer specialists have noticed similarities between the ransomware used in this attack and last year’s Petya attack. Like WannaCry, Petya is a quickly spreading worm that affects vulnerable systems. Unlike WannaCry, Petya has multiple ways to spread. This could explain why even victims who applied the EternalBlue patch were affected.
If the most recent attack is related to Petya, it could be far more damaging than WannaCry. Unlike WannaCry, Petya lacks a kill switch to prevent it from spreading. Also, Petya locks and encrypts entire hard drives, while WannaCry only locked individual files.
At the time of this news brief, 30 victims had paid the bitcoin ransom of $300, according to online records, but it isn’t yet clear whether they’ve regained access to their systems. Complicating matters, German email provider Poseo shut down the email account of the hackers in a move that could make it impossible for hackers to restore their victims’ computer access once ransom is paid.
Scurich Insurance will continue to monitor the situation. Contact us if you have any further questions regarding how you can avoid disruptive business interruptions from cyber attacks.
DHS Warns of Utilities Malware
Two cyber security firms have uncovered malicious software that they believe caused a Ukraine power outage last December. The software was recently uncovered by two cyber security firms—ESET, a Slovakian anti-virus software maker, and Dragos Inc., a U.S. critical-infrastructure security firm.
The two firms released details of the malware, which goes by two different names, Industroyer and Crash Override. They also issued alerts to governments and infrastructure operators to help them defend against the malware, warning that it could be easily modified to harm critical infrastructure operations around the globe.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) hasn’t seen any evidence to suggest that its critical infrastructure has been affected, but it will continue to investigate, as there is the possibility of more attacks using the same approach. In an alert posted on its website, the agency stated that “the tactics, techniques and procedures described as part of the Crash Override malware could be modified to target U.S. critical information networks and systems.”
In the same alert, the DHS posted a list of technical indicators that a system had been compromised by Crash Override and asked firms to contact the agency if malware was suspected.
Power firms are concerned that there could be more attacks, especially considering the malware could attack other types of infrastructure, such as transportation, water and gas providers.
The two companies do not yet know who masterminded the attack, although Ukraine blames Russia. Officials in Moscow have denied the claims.
Microsoft Warns of Cyber Attacks
Citing an elevated risk of cyber attacks, Microsoft has released several security updates during its June “Patch Tuesday” in an effort to protect against widespread hacking. A recent blog post by Adrienne Hall, General Manager of Microsoft’s Cyber Defense Operations Center, stated, “In reviewing the updates for this month, some vulnerabilities were identified that pose elevated risk of cyber attacks by government organizations, sometimes referred to as nation-state actors or other copycat organizations.”
In May 2017—after the WannaCry ransomware locked hundreds of thousands of machines around the world and demanded that victims paid a ransom in bitcoin—Microsoft was prompted to release updates for software that it no longer supports. This was an unexpected move that preceded more updates for old, outdated systems.
Microsoft’s motives for June’s most recent security updates are speculative, and it is unclear whether the company has been warned of another cyber attack using exploits similar to those of WannaCry. A Microsoft spokesperson stated that the decision to release the most recent updates is “an exception based on the current threat landscape and the potential impact to customers and their businesses.”
WannaCry Came from North Korea
According to British security officials, the May 2017 global ransomware attack that affected over 200,000 computer systems came from North Korea. The hackers are believed to be a hacking group known as Lazarus—the same group that targeted Sony Pictures in 2014.
In the wake of increasing tensions resulting from North Korea’s missile tests, the DHS and the FBI have issued an alert to businesses about another possible cyber attack led by North Korea, warning people to update old software
British security officials have recently linked the North Korean government to the creation of WannaCry, based on tactics, techniques and targets. The ransomware was originally built around a hacking tool belonging to the National Security Agency and spread through a flaw in Windows.
The Importance of Performing Updates
WannaCry is believed to be a flawed attempt to raise revenue for the North Korean regime, considering the hackers have not yet cashed in the $140,000 in bitcoin they stole. That is likely because the transactions are easy to track. Despite the failed attempt, one of the reasons why WannaCry was so powerful was because many of the facilities attacked hadn’t updated their software to patch holes in security.
The most recent security update includes patches to its Windows XP, Windows Vista and Server 2003 products, which are all unsupported but still widely used. Microsoft suggests customers enable Windows Update if they haven’t already.
Target to Pay Settlement from 2013 Data Breach
Target has agreed to pay $18.5 million to settle claims made by 47 states and the District of Columbia as well as to resolve an investigation into the retailer’s massive data breach in 2013.
The investigation found that Target’s gateway server was accessed by cyber hackers through credentials stolen from a third-party vendor. As a result, data from up to 40 million credit and debit cards were stolen during the 2013 holiday season.
The total cost of the data breach was $202 million, according to Target. The state receiving the largest share of the settlement is California, which will receive more than $1.4 million.
Michigan Utility Company Loses Employees After Cyber Attack
A Lansing utility company is still recovering from a 2016 cyber attack that temporarily disabled its internal network and asked for a $25,000 ransom. According to officials, an employee unsuspectingly clicked on an infected email attachment, which shut down the company’s accounting and email systems.
Since the cyber attack, 14 employees have voluntarily left the company—13 of which were IT employees. The company is devoting its resources to minimize the odds of an attack and to quickly recover in the event it is hit again.