Cyber threat to firms at all-time high

A leading industry expert has highlight the growing threat of high-level cyber attacks for professional firms.

Giving a talk at the Mortgage Tech UK conference last week, solicitor and Partner at Rosling King, Georgina Squire highlighted the dangers of online attacks for firms, recommending the necessary steps to prevent being hit as well as reducing the resulting impact should one occur.

Being targeted online has been highlighted as a dominant issue for firms, especially in light of the report from the National Crime Agency and GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre. The joint report warned that the UK business cyber threat is at an all-time high.

Commenting on the prominence of the issue, Georgina drew attention to the risks that firms face.

“Given that 2016 was the year that law firm data security came to the fore, by means of high-profile events such as the Panama Papers and the rise of Ransomware, it seems reasonable to suggest that the threat will impact professional services firms in much the same way as the wider economy.

“Over the last year, professional firms such as my own, have been urged to take proactive steps to manage the risk posed by cybercrime to protect both ourselves and our clients.”

She also expressed a need for firms to review their internal security by increasing training of staff and implementing additional protection strategies.

“We have legal and regulatory obligations like all other professionals involved in the mortgage industry. Our regulators are increasingly taking on more hands-on approach to data security and publishing regular guidance.”

She also highlighted several issues of concern for those dealing with mortgage origination, namely email fraud, cloud computing, ransomware and identity fraud.

For professional firms, there is a growing need for a change in general business culture that goes beyond software alone. Through creating efficient procedures and reviewing existing processes, a cyber-aware culture can be developed within a firm, aiming to prevent the two most concerning threats: identity fraud and so-called Friday afternoon fraud.

As has recently been apparent in the media, identify fraud can result in homes being sold by a fraudulent owner. According to HMLR registers, the value of this kind of fraud has risen to almost £25 million.

To spot this kind of fraud and prevent it progressing further, Squire advised that firms should consider the following signs:

  • A sense of urgency from the tenant.
  • The property. As the properties used in this kind of fraud are usually empty, it may be beneficial for agents to check the property.
  • The proof of identity. As criminals will have changed their name, the ID will be new.

Another prominent risk for those involved in the mortgage industry is Friday afternoon fraud, especially given the often-hectic work schedules of professionals working in this area.

Speaking at the conference, Squire highlighted the importance of firms maintaining consistency in a prevention approach.

Checking the bank account details of the consumer is crucial, in order to prevent funds being sent elsewhere. She suggested that any requests for bank detail amendments should be treated with extreme caution, advising that verification using original contact details should always be used. Ideally, confirmation would be done face to face, although this may not always be possible.

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