Property market targeted as cyber-crime increases

By Antonie Goosen, principal and founder of Meridian Realty

South Africa is ranked 6th globally when it comes to cyber-crime density according to Surfshark. Surfshark goes on to say that South Africa has had the highest year-over-year (YoY) density increase in cyber-crime compared to any country in the world (277%). The country is right up there with the likes of the UK, USA, and Canada. But why? I can imagine those at the top of the list being the most lucrative, but could it also be because South Africa is more vulnerable to attack?

According to a recent survey by World Wide Worx, more than 40% of companies are spending more than they budgeted for on cybersecurity off the back of the work from anywhere phenomenon. The report raises the question – could organisations have been under resourced in terms of cyber-crime prevention until recently. World Wide Worx CEO Arthur Goldstuck, principal analyst on the research project said, “In the game of cybercrime cat and mouse, one could argue there is no such thing as being over-resourced. However, under-resourcing not only exposes companies to risk, but also poses an existential threat. A major breach can bring down a company. Budgets must catch up to the significance of the threat.”

This almost confirms the assumption, that South Africans could be more vulnerable due to being under resourced in terms of cyber-security provisions and, as such, corporates are exceeding their budgets to “catch up”. Even more alarming is the fact that the property market has notoriously been targeted by cyber criminals, not only due to the vast amount of personal information criminals could gain access to, but also due to the large sums of money that change hands when property ownership is transferred. Getting on the band wagon with these sorts of transactions can prove to be quite lucrative for cyber criminals and devastating for the victims.

On a positive note, even before the advent of the true work from anywhere environments as a result of Covid – estate agents have been working in various locations for many years. This places estate agencies in a good position to know how to secure end point devices, manage transactions securely and store and secure data.

The reality is, however, that as organisations evolve so too do cyber criminals and the race is on to always be a step ahead of the other. The real estate industry is acutely aware of the risk they face and along with other businesses in South Africa are investing in the cyber security and some have even created their own secure payment portals to limit email communication exchanges of confidential information like banking details for property deposits, ID numbers and the like.

The majority of attacks on the real estate industry seem to stem mainly from phishing, which is also the most prolific type of cyber-crime worldwide for the third year in a row, according to Surfshark. A total of 323,972 phishing victims were recorded in 2021 equating to someone falling victim to a phishing attack every second!

In principal realty companies need to keep the principals of prevention, detection and how they would respond in the event of a cyber threat in mind. How to respond in the event of an attack is paramount. In the study conducted by World Wide Worx, 99% of respondents acknowledge that disaster management is essential.

Dell Technologies recently announced new cloud solutions to easily store, protect, and control data and applications across an increasing number of platforms and locations. Dell APEX Cyber Recovery Services – soon to be available in South Africa. This simplifies recovery from cyber-attacks.

For smaller companies, Vodacom and Accenture offering cybersecurity-as-a-service to South African SMEs and cover assessment, protection, detection, and response.

In conclusion, buying a home could be the single biggest investment a buyer is making, and loss of a deposit could be devastating to both the buyer and the agency in question. Cyber-crime is an ever-evolving landscape that needs to be navigated in an ongoing fashion. The fact that South African companies are increasing investment in security is encouraging and necessary given the fact that the country is high up on the list of countries subject to an increasing volume of threats. Realty companies need to contribute toward the fight against crime and need to be at the forefront of securing transfers and transactions necessary to the sale of property and ultimately grow our economy.

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