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Real Estate Ransomware Attacks: Hackers Have a New Target

Hacker attacks have increased in both frequency and severity over the past several years. Ransomware in particular has caused substantial chaos. Cybercriminals lock down important data and demand huge sums of money to release it, not only extorting money but completely disrupting business operations—even putting lives at risk.

While no industry is immune, the healthcare, manufacturing and government industries have been hit particularly hard. Now, the scope is broadening to include real estate ransomware attacks.

Why are real estate businesses targeted?

Real estate businesses face ransomware attacks for the same reason as any other industry: significant data prevalence. Real estate businesses accumulate broad property information about not only their own holdings, but also prospective holdings.

There’s also information about investors, partners, lenders, bank accounts and more. Real estate is an industry of high net worth individuals, multiple revenue streams and leveraged balance sheets. And don’t forget the growing world of the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart homes, which collect and store vast amounts of property and personal data.

All this together makes real estate businesses a virtual gold mine for cybercriminals seeking to extort money.

How Ransomware Extorts from Real Estate Businesses

Most ransomware attacks follow the same playbook. Once infected—usually by a phishing scam or through an unpatched computer—the ransomware locks users out of the system. Data is encrypted and inaccessible, and a ransom message is sent to the company. “Transfer X bitcoin to this account by Y date or your data will be permanently deleted.”

Real estate ransomware attacks follow the same scheme, but on a much grander scale. Here’s a look at three scenarios that are very real possibilities:

1. Cybercriminals gain access to a regional real estate firm and lock down its data. The company’s assets are frozen, impeding financial transactions from moving forward—including property transactions or rental collection. This could tank the balance sheet in a matter of days.

2. A ransomware virus like Zeppelin Maze or REvil infects a system and collects data before locking it down. Hackers ransom the company’s systems and the collected data, which may include financial information, personal identifying information and/or vital documentation about the company’s assets.

3. Hackers target building IoT devices to gain access to greater facility networks. Once in control, they can ransom the building itself, locking everything from HVAC and lighting to access control and facility management software. These types of attacks bridge the gap between digital data and physical asset hostage-taking.

Recent Real Estate Ransomware Attacks

Over the last five years there’s been a marked rise in ransomware attacks on real estate businesses. Several high-profile cases have been widely reported, including a major attack on the property arm of French bank BNP Paribas. The bank—which provides advisory, property and investment management and development services in 16 countries—has over $27B in assets under management. The attack took the company’s global systems offline while hackers demanded exorbitant sums to restore it.

The City of Baltimore was also the target of a ransomware scheme in early 2019, which disrupted a swath of vital real estate functions including the ability to retrieve and transfer titles, halting virtually all property transactions.

In both cases, no ransom was paid. That said, the lost revenue and disruption caused by these attacks far outweighs any ransom amount.

Cybercrime analysts predict a rise in attacks like these, with emphasis on smaller targets that may not have the resources to recover their data or the proper systems in place to protect it. While “big game hunting” will still occur, it’s smaller regional real estate businesses that need to be on guard in the near future.

As hackers and their tools become more sophisticated, you should protect your business now from real estate ransomware attacks. Your best bet is to talk to an IT services professional who can guide you in exactly what you need. (Having a tech team like James Moore, which works alongside real estate CPAs, provides bonus expertise.)

For some businesses, it’s simply a matter of implementing sound data encryption and cybersecurity practices. Larger firms might consider stress tests and other ways to vet their defenses against real estate ransomware attacks. The cost of such precautions is menial compared to the price of data ransom—and the chaos that comes with it.

All content provided in this article is for informational purposes only. Matters discussed in this article are subject to change. For up-to-date information on this subject please contact a James Moore professional. James Moore will not be held responsible for any claim, loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of any information within these pages or any information accessed through this site.