The use of search engines leaves users vulnerable to what is called a “watering hole attack.” A watering hole attack tricks users by creating false websites mimicking trusted, industry specific websites that appear on searches.

These sites plant malicious files in place of a template or document professionals would download for their job. Instead, users are putting themselves and the Company at risk with a malicious executable file. It is important to be alert and not depend on random searches to find downloadable documents.

Unlike other forms of loan or real estate fraud, these attackers are not targeting a specific victim. Instead, they use the watering hole to set a trap and then wait for unsuspecting users to fall victim by opening one of the malicious files.

Have you ever completed an internet search for a document necessary for closing? A perfect example would be an Escrow Officer performing a closing for an out-of-county or out-of-state property and the transfer tax declaration was not available in their escrow production system.

The Escrow Officer would typically reach out to the county tax collector’s website for the document to provide to the principals for completion and signing at closing. That scenario sets off the watering hole attack!

These icons look like downloadable zip/PDF documents, but they are not. They contain malicious executables that — when opened — can infect your entire network. They are written as a script designed to contact a command-and-control server controlled by an attacker. The intent of the script is to infiltrate the network, steal information and start a ransomware attack!

In the past, watering hole attacks have not generally targeted real estate and Title Companies. However, this trend has changed. Performing internet searches looking for business-specific templates and then clicking on a link to download them is an unnecessary risk.

With our real estate market constantly shifting and changing, we want to make sure you are aware of any new scams that could cause you problems.

by Jill Bright, Chicago Title Agency