Apartment management firms must remain diligent when it comes to cybersecurity.
Yahoo’s recent disclosure that more than one billion of its users’ accounts were compromised in what may be the largest data breach ever—combined with headlines about possible Russian cyberattacks designed to influence November’s election—have once again brought the topic of cybersecurity to the forefront as well as the vulnerabilities companies and individuals face every time they go online, send email or even store files in the cloud.
Property management companies no longer operate in an environment when rental applications were easily safeguarded simply by storing paper applications in locked file cabinets in locked offices. The threat of cyberattacks requires constant vigilance. It also requires an ongoing effort to ensure employees properly secure sensitive information and that protective regularly updated to stay ahead of the ever-evolving toolbox of weapons at a hacker’s disposal.
Property management companies face the same hacking threats as every other company. They not only have their own corporate, proprietary information to protect but also employee information, vendor accounts and sensitive financial records, as well as a wide range of other information that needs to remain properly secured. They also collect confidential information from residents and prospective residents during the rental application stage. All of this information must be handled appropriately and kept secure at all times.
While the property management industry has yet to see a major cybersecurity breach, this could be just a matter of time. According to a White House audit, the United States government was hit by 77,000 “cyber incidents” in 2015 alone. That’s an increase of 10 percent over the number seen the year before. It seems like every day word comes of a new cyberattack or data breach involving a major corporation or government agency.
These data breaches have a cost—not just to consumers but also to companies. A 2015 study conducted by the Ponemon Institute and sponsored by IBM surveyed 64 U.S. companies and found that a single breach involved, on average, nearly 30,000 records. The total average cost of a single data breach in the United States was $7.01 million, while the cost of just a single record’s loss or theft came in at $221.
So what’s to be done? Like other student and multifamily housing companies, Asset Campus Housing takes cybersecurity very seriously and is continually looking at security systems on its servers, in-house systems and third-party vendors. The skill of their digital adversaries makes it critical that companies take all precautions possible to protect their data. This involves securing servers and also vetting any software used during the rental process to make sure it also provides proper data security. Ensure the software encrypts sensitive data such as social security numbers, bank account numbers, billing information and credit card information.
Other steps to take:
- Invest in the best virus protection software and make sure updates are promptly installed.
- Maintain firewalls on the company’s systems and make sure employees working remotely also have firewalls and encrypted access to the internet.
- Never use free Wi-Fi on company computers.
- Make sure all company-issued computers prevent employees from accidentally installing programs with malware or viruses that can affect the whole network.
- Educate employees on safe internet use and data security practices.
- Make frequent backups of company data and store it offsite.
Wanda Norrick, CAM, is Senior Vice President at Asset Campus Housing.