Cyber Safety Tips: How Your Board Can Help Keep Your Association Safe

Technology has made so many facets of running any business easier. Gone are the days of hand-written ledgers balanced with a calculator, and we’re better for it. Communication is much faster and more effective in its reach. We also have specialized property management software that can simplify transactions and improve association communication. Wireless access to cardkey data and security cameras can allow you to keep an eye on activities around your property and manage systems as needed, from anywhere.

With all of that technology comes some risks. Hackers make careers out of trying to access data for fun and profit. But there are things that you, the board, can do to help keep your community data safe.

As a board member, you may be thinking, “We’re all volunteers. What do we know about security?” If no one in your community is knowledgeable in this area, bring in a professional to help. This professional can review your existing protection, recommend ways to improve it and perform any upgrades you can’t do yourself. A good community association management company can help, providing an in-house expert or referring you to a reputable specialist.
Meanwhile, your board can implement the steps below to begin putting your association on the road to cyber security.

1. Train your association board. 
Whether you create a simple manual or require board members to take a class, cyber security awareness training for everyone on the board is a good idea. This way, all members are following the same procedures and policies.

2. Educate your residents. 
Use available communication channels to inform you residents about personal cyber security. Include information in your community newsletter, send out emails or letters and post tips on your community website and on a centrally located bulletin board. 

3. Formalize your cyber security policy. 
Your community association is essentially a small business, and just like any business, it should have an established policy for handling online security. Did you know that non-profit organizations such as community associations are considered to be creditors as per the Federal Trade Commission? Of course, your governing documents, New Jersey Identity Theft Law, New Jersey Theft Prevention Act, and local laws will dictate how to add a new policy. Such a policy should include answers to the following questions:
  1. Roles. Who should have access to what information? Who should have administrative privileges? Who will have responsibility for managing cyber security?
  2. Potential risks and a plan of action. What are some of the possible security breaches that might occur, and what can you do to mitigate those risks? How should board members address mishandling or accidental leaking of personal information? Who should you contact if you suspect criminal hacking of your data? Who and how will it be disclosed to those residents who personal information was accessed by an unauthorized person?
  3. Rules about using association devices. If your association owns computers or mobile devices for board members or residents to use, do they contain sensitive information? How will you prevent unauthorized people from accessing confidential information? Should you allow access to social media from these devices? Are certain websites off limits? How do you handle the end of tenure for a Board Member or employee?
  4. Use of Professional Services. Erin O’Reilly, a property manager with FirstService Residential in New Jersey, recommends that boards ask the following questions: “Do you have an insurance policy which covers cyber theft? What type of coverage for cyber liability will you need? What damages could you be responsible for? Do you have a computer specialist that installs proper updates and patches for your devices? Has your virus protection been updated on all devices where sensitive information can be accessed?”
4. Assess your association software for security issues. 
Using software that is specially designed for homeowners associations can make many tasks easier for both board members and residents. However, it must incorporate robust security designed to prevent the introduction of malware and unauthorized access to sensitive information.

Safety and security go well beyond the walls of your building or the fences of your neighborhood. In today’s world, hackers and scammers can also cause significant harm. Understanding the dangers and being vigilant when going online are responsibilities that every board member—and every resident—should undertake to protect your community.An experienced property management company can help you protect your information from cyber attacks while making it easier to conduct business online. Find out how. Contact FirstService Residential, New Jersey’s leading community association management company. 

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