Real Estate

What the Cyberattack On The Corcoran Group Means For Real Estate

Last Friday cyberterrorists hacked into the systems of The Corcoran Group. These criminals sent confidential financial information regarding the company’s operations to every agent in the firm. Since we are a commission-based business, with agents rewarded at different split levels depending on their production history, this information has the potential to be internally explosive. These emails came ostensibly from the computer of one of Corcoran’s senior executives, whose account had also clearly been invaded. This occurrence, purely malevolent with no immediate possibility for financial benefit to those responsible, sent shock waves through our community.

It seems increasingly clear that even the most secure systems are not fully secure. Hackers breach firewalls and gain access to both server- and cloud-stored information, be that belonging to real estate companies or the U.S. government. Bots on Facebook disseminate false information which influences our elections. So, short of abjuring the ease of computer usage and reverting to locked rooms containing paper records and communication only through phone calls and the fax machine, what are companies to do to protect their information?

While I am no technologist, I know a few things. First, we must all take security ever more seriously and devote more time and resources to maintaining it. As systems grow more complex, and we layer newer fixes on top of older ones, the maze which our systems become grows harder to monitor. Paring these overburdened systems down will not only create greater efficiency but also leave fewer points of entry for the ill-intentioned hacker or piece of malware.

Second, we must think harder about whether to keep our systems functionally discrete. The ease that technology creates in linking all the different aspects of our business online may also be making us more vulnerable. To link a listing system that may be old and creaky, or new but not proprietary, to our most confidential information about earnings and our specific relationships with our agents, suddenly seems dangerous.

Finally, we in the real estate brokerage business must acknowledge that the way the industry functions intramurally has changed. Hyperaggressive recruiting tactics have altered the way residential brokerage functions as an industry nationwide, never to return to the friendly collegial competition which characterized us for so many years. While this may be a golden age for agents, who can almost count on receiving funny money offers from a competitor if they have even a glimmer of visibility, the changes have wrought a cutthroat war for talent among the agencies. In this environment, the attack on Corcoran was perhaps a sad inevitability.

We wouldn’t need laws and retributive consequences if people didn’t break the law and (hopefully) feel chastened by the consequences. I believe, and I suspect many in my industry feel similarly, that this internal espionage must have been initiated by either a disgruntled (and tech-savvy) former employee or a competitor. While we all have frustrated former agents running around, they probably universally lack the skills and resources to pull a stunt like this. So I will end this blog with a plea to the guilty party in the words of Joseph Welch: Beyond the fact that you are breaking the law in a most egregious way, have you no sense of decency? Whatever our differences, we have always been a tight-knit community animated by mutual respect. That is the industry I have loved for over 40 years, and the one which I still work every day to elevate and protect.

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