Last month, Texas made headlines after 22 municipalities suffered ransomware attacks. While cyber attacks on local governments have made headlines nearly every month, this spree of coordinated cyber attacks represents a new level of offense. 

Making matters worse, most local government offices are not equipped to manage growing cyber threats. According to an ICMA report, many local officials and staff are not even aware of the need for cybersecurity, and most face financial barriers to achieving better protection.

As cyber threats on local government offices continue to rise, how can title & escrow companies prepare themselves to keep their business running and clients informed during a local shutdown?  We spoke with Amy Caplan of Broadview Title  in Maryland who experienced the effects of a local government attack firsthand when Baltimore suffered a ransomware attack in May. She delivered 4 tips for staying afloat when local government offices are incapacitated.

Proactively Establish Trusted Lender, Underwriter, and Real Estate Agent Relationships

There was no way for the Broadview Title team to predict a local government cyber attack, Caplan explained; however, her team came out relatively unscathed because of their strong relationships with underwriter, real estate agent, and lender partners. “If you’re a reliable title [or escrow] company, your partners will trust that you will guide them in the right direction when something like this happens,” Caplan said. “Our agents trusted our expertise when we told them a particular close couldn’t happen.”

Caplan believes this trust stems from Broadview Title’s  strict adherence to regulations and compliance measures. “We have a reputation to uphold. Our clients know we will always follow guidelines and the requirements of our underwriters.”  For example, when it comes to security, lenders and agents know that Broadview Title goes above and beyond to protect consumer information. “We do a number of things to ensure people’s information is safe,” she said, citing Qualia’s Connect portal for secure information exchange. 

Wait. Then Work Closely with Partners to Determine An Action Plan

In the case of a government security breach, a step-by-step crisis plan goes out the window. “It’s difficult to proactively come up with a plan because there’s no way to predict how the city will handle the breach or the contingency plans they will put in place for you to work from,” Caplan said. After the Baltimore attack transpired, the city couldn’t process checks and they didn’t have lien certificates. Caplan and her team patiently waited for the city to develop basic “crutches” and a contingency plan to work from. 

Eventually, the city made it possible for title & escrow companies to move forward. From there, Caplan and her team worked closely with underwriters to come up with a plan. “We had to weigh the risks and figure out how we could follow the city’s workarounds while protecting our underwriters and clients,” Caplan said. This plan was adapted several times as more information became available. “We had to hang on for the ride and adapt quickly,” she said. 

Go Outside of Your Office Walls to Collect Information

Business-as-usual was suspended in Baltimore for several months, and while distribution channels were put in place to relay information and updates, having boots on the ground was especially helpful for the Broadview Title team. “We had an employee who was able to go into the city to gather information first-hand” Caplan said. “She would come back with more information that wasn’t yet available from other outside sources.” 

Trust your Team’s Expertise and Empower Them to Make Case-by-Case Decisions 

Caplan enabled her team with “rule of thumb” practices for different scenarios; however, she knew that she ultimately needed to trust that her team possessed the knowledge and expertise to use their discretion on a case-by-case basis. “Nothing is ever black-and-white,” she noted, “so you need to trust that your team knows how to use their own judgment in-line with underwriter and city guidelines.” 

Caplan empowered her team with internal meetings and consistent email updates with information and best-practices from the Maryland Land Title Association. From there, she trusted that her team would uphold Broadview Title’s reputation for secure practices that prioritized accurate recording. 

Preparing your business for the unknown

As ransomware attacks continue to plague municipalities across the country, it’s more important than ever for title & escrow businesses to have strong relationships and secure communication channels in place. When outside forces disrupt the “norm” a solid foundation of strong partnerships and streamlined communication can keep a business afloat.