The FBI recently released a report to those in the agriculture industry, warning them of an increase in cyberattacks aimed at farming equipment as more devices become connected to the internet. “While precision agriculture technology (a.k.a. smart farming) reduces farming costs and increases crop yields, farmers need to be aware of and understand the associated cyber risks to their data and ensure that companies entrusted to manage their data, including digital management tool and application developers and cloud service providers, develop adequate cybersecurity and breach response plans,” the report began.
The report outlined the following threats to farmers and agriculturalists:
Data-theft: The biggest threat to farms is the theft of sensitive data. Some hackers wish to steal farm data such as information about soil content, past crop yields, planting recommendations, etc. They could use this information to “exploit US agriculture resources and market trends.”
Ransomware: Common across all industries, hackers will encrypt farmers’ data and hold it for ransom. Only when the money is paid will the hackers release the data back to its rightful owner. This could interrupt farming processes dramatically. In addition, hacktivists (activist hackers) may steal data and destroy it in an effort to protest genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or pesticides.
Equipment hacking: Cyber criminals may attack internet-connected equipment in order to render it useless and disrupt food production and processing.
The report was issued because “historically, the farming industry has lacked awareness of how their data should be protected from cyber exploitation.” However, some larger companies, such as Monsanto, are working to increase their cyber defenses.
The FBI gives the following tips for smaller farming operations to protect themselves:
Back up data: In order to keep data safe from loss and from being held ransom, farmers need a redundant backup system in place. Along with the original copy of data, data needs to be stored both in an on-site external backup (such as an external drive) and in an off-site cloud backup. This ensures that data won’t be lost due to theft, malware, ransomware, fires, floods, power surges, etc.
Monitor employee logins: Farmers should make sure that only the right employees have access to certain data. They should also make sure that two-facture authentication is enabled for remote logins.
Provide training: Employees should be regularly trained and informed of cyber security policies and procedures. There should be an information technology email that employees can send suspicious emails to. Employees also need to be informed about recent and newsworthy security threats.
Hire an IT company: A professional IT company will be able to monitor the network for any unusual traffic, block suspicious IP addresses, close unused ports, and make the network more efficient.