e-mail security for real estate agents

E-Mail Security and Real Estate Agents

Security is something we all think of regularly when it comes to technology. We use security software on personal computers, tablets, and smartphones. In the real estate world, every REALTOR and real estate broker use technology every day.  The use of some security measures is a good thing and a necessity in this time. REALTORS generally transmit personal information, mortgage information and other sensitive data over their “free” e-mail account. Real estate agents have their clients sign a document explaining “agency”.  In that document, they guarantee a certain level of privacy.  Using what may technology vendors look at as “obviously not secure”, using a FREE E-mail system may not be enough to avoid being responsible.

Is The Broker or the Agent At Fault?

The unfortunate answer to that is BOTH.  Both the real estate broker and the individual REALTOR are both responsible for data breaches that affect their customers and clients.  Many real estate brokers provide their agents with broker branded e-mail accounts.  Needless to say, if the broker is providing the e-mail then they are directly responsible.  Even if the broker does not provide the e-mail, in most states they have ultimate culpability for the agents on their roster.  At the agent level, if you have subscribed to a free e-mail service, especially one known for security vulnerabilities (such as AOL) then you are responsible too.  Remember, in most states, the real estate agent is the person who has the agency relationship with the client.  This is a problem when you have active homes for sale.

Large Breaches In Security

email security Back in 2014, Yahoo, EBay, Home Depot, and AOL were breached by hackers who stole the data of more than 500 Million user accounts. This information included things such as usernames, passwords, email addresses, phone numbers, as well as other sensitive information.  For any real estate agent using one of these systems, the confidential aspect of their real estate transaction could be at risk.  The mentioned breaches are only a small number of successful attacks which took place in 2014. Many of the email providers that people use for personal email simply do not deploy or maintain the same security measures one may find with a dedicated exchange server.

Companies like Yahoo and AOL were great for providing a free personal email account in the early days of the internet. However, they should not be used to transmit sensitive sensitive data of any kind. Using AOL is a bad idea in itself. The company has been a target for hackers for many years because of a lack of security. At the same time, Yahoo is not much better. It too has been a target favored by hackers for many years. Companies this large have attempted breaches of security almost daily if not more often. The public only hears about the large breaches that are made public.

For an interesting view of recent breaches over the years, take a look at the chart here: Worlds Biggest Breaches. The page is a great visual representation of some of the biggest breaches in the last decade.

words biggest security breaches
When it comes to security of data, the user’s computer or device is not the end of the line. To protect data regardless of being personal, business related, or otherwise, the user must think much farther down the line and be proactive against possible breaches of security. Far too many people are using insecure methods of exchanging data. Lawyers, doctors, real estate agents, corporate CEOs, and many others are using personal email accounts to transfer data with clients or other organizations, often never realizing that the risk is not at the computer sending the email. Nor is it the issue with the computer receiving the email. The real issue is with the service being used to send or receive the email or other message.  With real estate agents transferring critical, personal information over their e-mail, REALTORS may have some level of culpability if a security breach is found. Simply using a service that has had a data breach puts real estate agents at risk.

Website Vulnerability

If you do business through your real estate website, anything that passes through there, such as your clients:

  • Names
  • Email Address
  • Home Address
  • Phone Number
  • Other Potentially Private Information

If you own your domain – and pass client information of any sort, you are responsible for that data.

Data

 

security hackUsing a service that has had a data breach is a serious risk. Any messages that are transmitted can be seen and manipulated by a third party aka the hacker. The stolen data is often sold on the black market and then used for many things like identity theft. The information pertained in one account is often similar to, if not the same as, the information used in other accounts for the same person. Once a hacker or organization has enough information it can be used to check for accounts and other information on many different websites. This means that the email used to create a Facebook account is often the same as the one used to create an Instagram account. The chances that both accounts use the same password are fairly high. All the security questions that are answered are also common among many websites making that information just as valuable as the email and password.

Secure e-Mail Options for Real Estate Agents

There are many better options in email services for both business and personal use. Companies like Microsoft and Google offer free email services for personal use as well as dedicated email domains for business use. Both are much more secure than using an outdated service like AOL. When transmitting sensitive data related to business, an employee should never use a personal account for any communication. All employees should use the company provided email account for security. As for personal email accounts, there are many free secure options available. Microsoft offers a free outlook.com account to anyone signing up for a Microsoft account. Google has always been free to sign up for an account that includes much more than just email. A Google account gives the user access to many different services and tools from Google. There are many more free email services for personal use available on the internet.

Digital Security

Security is a big factor in the world when it comes to digital information. The use of old outdated systems like AOL can lead to potential data breaches by outside sources. Moving email and messaging services away from old systems is a simple step to keeping all data and communications secure. The next step is to keep personal messages separate from business. Never use a personal account for company related communication and vice versa. Finally, using simple passwords is a disaster waiting to happen. Creating secure passwords and changing them often is the best way to keep all communications secure. The password that is used with one account should not be used with other accounts. All these steps mentioned will help to ensure all communications, personal and business related, stay secure and out of the hands of hackers and other malicious persons.

Must Have Wordpress Plugins

My List of Must Have WordPress Plugins

 

Seems like everyone and their brother has a favorite list of “Must Have” WordPress plugins. For anyone that builds a lot of websites on the WordPress platform, you find that you use many of the same plugins over and over and over time, cant live without them.  We do quite a bit of real estate SEO and website design, so some of these plugins are SEO related.

Must Have WordPress Plugins

One Feed SuperchargerOne Feed Supercharger is an awesome plugin, built by the SEO gurus over at Network Empire, that maximizes the use of RSS feeds. Anyone with a website wants their site to be found by the major search engines and using RSS feeds can be very valuable. WordPress does automatically create an RSS feed for you, but One Feed provides some super cool features.

  • First, you can create an unlimited number of RSS feeds containing a variety of information.
  • All of the feeds created in One Feed include all of the photos for each blog
  • You can pull other RSS feeds into One Feed and create a master feed
  • You can pull random “old” articles or have a “sticky” post included in any feed

I use One Feed Supercharger on every site I manage. Here is a video showing how powerful it is.

Yoast SEOYoast SEO is one of the most popular SEO plugins on the market and for good reason. It provides a plethora of SEO tools absolutely free. Not only can you easily adjust your meta title and description, but Yoast SEO provides site analysis, XML sitemap configuration, the ability to edit your robot.txt and .htaccess files all coupled with an easy to use interface. They also provide many paid options for specific purposes.

Formidable Forms – Yep, you guessed it, Formidable Forms is a forms plugin. I used to use Contact Form 7 quite regularly, but after finding Formidable, I haven’t looked back. I have opted for the paid version since I use some of the more advanced features, but the free version is powerful and easy enough for most people.

Visual ComposerVisual Composer is a page builder that lets you build out an entire website without coding. It comes with many visually appealing features that can be easily incorporated into just about any website. It has both a front end and a back end editor which lets you see the final product as you are building it. They provide a variety of add-ons for Visual Composer, I personally use the “Ultimate Ad-ons for Visual Composer” as it includes many premium elements like Icon, Info Box, Interactive Banner, Flip Box and a lot more. One downfall is that Visual Composer can slow down your website load times if you go crazy with it, so be careful.

Social Media FeatherSocial Media Feather easily adds social media share and follow icons to any WordPress website. Although that in itself is not very unique, it does so with a small footprint and doesn’t slow your website down. It has a ton of options such as choosing your sharing prefix and postfix, customize-able icon sizes and placements and interfaces with just about every platform.

Revolution Slider – If you want an endless level of customization for your slider, Revolution Slider is your best bet. There are other solid slider programs out there, but I have found that Revolution Slider simply has all of the options I am looking for. Rumor has it that they had some security issues some time back but that is all resolved now.

AMP & Glue OR Facebook Instant Articles & Google AMP Pages by PageFrog– Im still in the early stages of testing these out — so I thought I would mention them all. With Google having a push for AMP pages (Accelerated Mobile Pages) if you have any interest in ranking your site, you will want to implement AMP pages/posts on your site. One option is to use BOTH AMP and Glue for Yoast SEO. These two plugins work together to create AMP pages for all of your blog posts automatically. Needless to say, you will need to be using Yoast SEO to take this route. One of the downfalls of this combo set is that it only creates AMP pages for your blog posts and not your pages. They say the pages support is in the works. The other option is Facebook Instant Articles & Google AMP Pages by PageFrog – I have found this little gem and seem to like it quite a bit. It gives a preview of the AMP page and even supports Instant Articles for Facebook.

 

Enjoy!