Property owners may be feeling a false sense of security

The threat posed from high tech criminals is increasingly in the news these days with large, high profile victims dominating the headlines.  In recent times we’ve heard about attacks which have crippled the NHS, cost Tesco Bank millions, and compromised a billion Yahoo account holders.

You might assume cyber crime is always perpetrated by teenage hackers against corporate giants or governments – a digital age David and Goliath. But this isn’t the full picture. The Government-commissioned Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2017 revealed just under half (46%) of all UK businesses identified at least one cyber security breach or attack in the previous 12 months.

Smaller businesses may think they won’t be targeted because they believe online data isn’t a core part of their business or the data they hold is of little to no value.

However, if you keep records on a computer, conduct online banking, have a website or social media account then your business is at risk and criminals are interested in you.

Why landlords are particularly vulnerable

A theoretical example might help to illustrate the risks which some landlords will face.

Let’s say you are a landlord with a medium-sized portfolio - say 30 to 40 homes. Like many property owners on this scale, you may run your business from home, using a standard PC to record important information and to communicate with suppliers and tenants.

A cyber criminal will find your business an attractive target for these reasons:

  • Home computer systems tend to be less secure than many business IT networks.
  • You probably have valuable personal data stored such as tenants’ bank details.
  • Large amounts of money are being electronically banked on the same day each month when rents are paid.

Rob Mayo, NFU Mutual landlord insurance expert, said: “We have heard cyber security horror stories which have seen property owners suffer significant financial losses because hackers have exploited insecure networks.

“In one instance, a landlord who conducted online banking of rents on the last day of each month had thousands of pounds stolen. It transpired that thieves had managed to access the owner’s computer by logging onto their home wi-fi network from a car parked in the street. A weak wi-fi password combined with a predictable transfer of money proved incredibly costly for them.”

Losing money is bad enough but the reputational damage that this sort of incident can do to your business could be costly.

How to protect yourself

  • Create strong passwords on your computer. These should include a combination of numbers, symbols, upper and lower-case letters. Don’t use single words, names or birthday dates.
  • Keep changing your passwords. Don’t use the same password for multiple log-ins and make sure you change your passwords about every 90 days. Don’t ever write down or record your passwords in a way which can be read by other people.
  • Invest in a good standard of anti-virus and security software. And make sure that you install the latest security updates to ensure you remain protected against new forms of malware.
  • Encrypt sensitive data. Ensure documents which include financial accounts or personal data belonging to tenants or staff are secure.
  • Ensure your emails are secure. Good security software should scan your incoming emails to check for any malicious attachments which could infect your computer. If you receive an email from an unknown source then be wary and certainly don’t open any attachments – a common tactic to infect computer networks.
  • Invest in cyber insurance. Not only can insurance cover you against financial losses and fines but it should also provide access to IT experts to protect and rescue your data as well as public relations experts to protect your reputation.