Building smart secure walls - the real estate cyber security challenge

26 May 2017



Cyber security is at the top of the UK CEO agenda. In our 20th CEO survey, UK CEOs rated cyber security as the second biggest threat to their business. It is also clear from our recent Global State of Information Security survey 2017 that companies are investing in cyber security with over 50% of respondents employing intrusion detection tools and actively monitoring threat intelligence.

It is also no longer enough for organisations to assure their own cyber security in isolation. The cyber security and privacy capabilities of external business partners have become a priority after several high-profile breaches were attributed to the compromise of third parties’ systems.

Traditionally security in real estate has been all about high walls and thick doors with big locks, but in a digital age both landlords and their tenants are vulnerable to cyber threats.

Construction projects – The increasing use of building information modelling (BIM) on cloud-based services provides many advantages allowing multiple third parties, suppliers or vendors to collaborate effectively on a project. However, it also poses significant risks for protecting the data and ensuring that the right access is given to the right people. A loss of data could delay a project and have severe cost implications.

Building management and operations – buildings are increasingly connected, offering malicious attackers (e.g. terrorists or activists)  the opportunity to target key systems, for example taking down wifi in an office, security cameras in a shopping centre or lift operating systems. Tenants won't pay for a building that doesn't work or isn't safe; more worrying is the potential threat to safety.

Internet of Things - the world is becoming increasingly connected and real estate management is moving towards real time monitoring of physical assets in a building or built environment. This increases dependence on systems and processes outside of the direct control of the building operator. In an interconnected world a cyber breach in one organisation can affect many others – even where there is no direct relationship. 46% of respondents in the Global Information Survey 2017 are investing in security for the Internet of Things.

Customer data – Technology is providing tenants, owners and operators of real estate with the opportunity to better understand drivers of real estate value in areas such as workplace productivity and health/wellbeing. Explosive growth in collecting data from individuals as they use a physical space is a core component of this, as information is gathered on how a building design impacts people's movement, the levels of air quality, access to light, even stress levels and other data points relevant to the health and productivity of a building's occupants. Retail is an obvious example where this is already happening - where the most innovative retail mall owners see digital interactions with customers via apps with real-time, in-store discount offers as an extension of their overall ‘placemaking’ objectives to enhance the user's’ overall experience and drive rental values. The result is an increasing exchange of personal data between a building user and the building owner. As the use of data in the industry accelerates, landlords will be responsible for more personal data and required to protect this data in line with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)  which comes into force in May 2018 and brings with it potential fines of €20 million or 4% of global turnover.  

Reputation - in addition to the potential for cyber attacks to cause financial or physical damage, cyber attacks can bring reputational damage for the victims.  This can be exacerbated when sensitive or embarrassing internal information is stolen in a cyber attack.

There is a lot that real estate can learn from other industries which have been the targets of organised criminals, hacktivists, governments and terrorists when it comes to cyber crime. Cyber security incidents are simply a fact of digital life and the industry needs to be working hard to protect both itself and its end users

Gareth Lewis  |  Director, Real Estate
Email  |  +44 20 78045537