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Digital transformations have been an ongoing strategy,

designed to help organizations migrate from time-consuming and costly paper processes to a system that streamlines accounting, document presentation, and communication tasks. Many homeowner associations have recognized the benefit of adopting specific types of information technology.

These benefits include the ability to access significant amounts of data for new insights, business decisions, and fewer repetitive or duplicative processes. Most homeowners also appreciate the improved service and convenience associated with these digital transformations.

However, others have taken notice of these changes and are intent on exploiting them. These are criminals who know how to manipulate this environment, increasing the risk that organizations who store their data digitally may become the victim of data breaches or server hacks. The result can be compromised information that leads to identity and financial theft for homeowners.

The Risk is Real

The most recent statistics point to the reasons to take data breaches seriously:

  • Risk-Based Security noted that 3,813 breaches were reported through June 30, 2019, which exposed more than 4.1 billion records. This is an increase in data breaches of 54% and in exposed records of 52%.
  • Security Magazine’s list of the top ten data breaches of 2020 revealed that some of the world’s largest companies are vulnerable, including Microsoft. These organizations suffered data breaches that impacted millions and even billions of records.

Like all assets in an HOA, the community’s information must be protected. For the HOA responsible for keeping that personal data private and secure, the result  can be fines, lawsuits, and a tarnished reputation. To save homeowners and HOAs from this digital theft, it’s important to develop a cybersecurity strategy. Here are some tips to get you started on developing and implementing this strategy.

Understand Your Data

There is not just one type of data in an HOA. In fact, there are multiple levels that require different tactics to ensure security and privacy.

First, there is public information. Examples include CC&Rs, bylaws, and other HOA founding documents along with marketing materials, events, and community information about amenities found on the website.

Second, there is a layer of information that is limited to HOA community residents, such as a directory of contact information, Board meeting agendas and minutes, procedures and policies, and financial reports.

Finally, there is more restrictive information meant to be seen by HOA Board members and management, including contracts and other legal documents, disciplinary and collection activity, Board packets, management reports, and HOA employee records. This data also includes HOA resident bank account numbers, debit and credit card numbers, Social Security Numbers, driver’s license numbers, birthdates, and other sensitive information.

Get Expert IT Assistance

Although an HOA organization is responsible for what happens to this data, your team most likely is not schooled in the tools and technology to protect that information. Cybersecurity has expanded and become quite complex in response to hackers, including passwords, firewalls, data encryption, multiple layers of authentication, biometrics, and more. 

It can be difficult to understand how all these tech tools work and which ones are right for the HOAs you manage. This is when it makes sense to consider an IT security consultant to assist. They specialize in identifying security gaps and how to best secure an organization’s data.

Review Legal Obligation

In conjunction with the security review by an IT consultant, it is important that an HOA Board look at all the federal, state, and local laws that dictate their obligation to protect all HOA data. Being aware of these laws can help direct the type of strategy and policies that are put into place related to HOA information at every level. 

Create a Formal Information Security Policy

No HOA is too small to have an information security plan in place. Formalizing the process of protecting your HOA data gives the entire community more confidence that data will be secured and that any situations that may arise can be handled appropriately.

Having this policy also helps address specific security risks and what to do in each instance. It may even help reduce the risk that the HOA, its Board Members, and management will be viewed as negligent and liable should anything occur.

On a general level, an HOA’s information security policy should define what information to protect and at what level, how to dispose of information when it’s no longer needed, and what type of liability insurance is available should the HOA be sued due to a data breach. Security procedures should also describe how access will be limited to sensitive information as well dictate who has access clearance to which level of information.

The policy should also explain what to do should protection fail so that the situation is dealt with as quickly as possible to minimize the damage. This includes defining the scope of the damage, describing how it happened (deliberate versus accidental), and notifying those who need to know (Board, management, law enforcement, those impacted, insurance carrier, and all HOA members). The policy should also determine who will serve as an official spokesperson and how they should respond.

Use Proven Security Methods

There are a number of effective security tactics you can use that do not cost money but can make a significant impact on an HOA’s ability to protect the community’s information:

  • Password protection: Even if an HOA uses cloud storage, it’s important to restrict who has access. Be sure to enforce a strict password process with strong passwords (a combination of unique numbers and symbols) for each access point. Password managers are one tool that may help an HOA create and organize unique passwords.
  • Personal device access: With more people on an HOA team working remotely, personal devices have become quite common for accessing information. However, this can put all data at significant risk. It’s important to consider alternatives to using personal devices, such as supplying company tablets or laptops for Board Members and management.
  • Software updates: Hackers have tested their breaching methods on older software while still trying to get into the newest versions of that software. Therefore, simply staying on top of software updates on all HOA computers can help discourage cybercriminals from trying to hack your system.

Staying Vigilant

One of the most important things to remember about an HOA cybersecurity strategy is that the work will never be done. Keeping HOA information is a continual process that requires complete focus and commitment.

Innovia is here to help! Contact us today to find out how partnering with our co-op can help you gain access to valuable resources designed to help you with cybersecurity and more.