Technology and Farming: How to Protect Your Ag-Tech From Breaches

Reader Contribution by Kayla Matthews
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Photo by Spencer Pugh on Unsplash

Agricultural technology — often abbreviated as ag-tech — could open new opportunities for your small farm or homestead. However, ag-tech data breaches could substantially hinder your investments and operations. Here are six proactive ways to prevent them and protect your business:

1. Update Your Software

Installing software updates is one of the most straightforward things you can do to protect ag-tech infrastructure. However, this simple task is often overlooked. Software updates usually have security patches to address known weaknesses. Failing to install them leaves you especially open to risks. 

Brent Raeth, a managing partner at CatchMark Technologies, cites ignored updates as among the biggest cybersecurity threat areas. Raeth also said he often assists clients who have dozens of patches to install when he arrives to assess their systems.

See if your ag-tech software has an automatic update feature available. You could set it to look for updates every two weeks or so, then install them during off-hours over an active internet connection. Otherwise, think about setting a recurring reminder on your phone to check for new software manually. 

2. Control Physical Access to Computers and Ag-Tech Devices

Ag-tech cybersecurity extends to both virtual and physical vulnerabilities. You’ll never see most hackers face to face, but don’t forget about the possibility of insider threats or similar malicious activities that happen on-site. 

An effective way to safeguard your farming tech relates to restricting access to it. For example, maybe your farming shed stores agricultural sensors that help you determine water and herbicide needs. Or, perhaps you keep your business computer in an unsecured room that sees ongoing foot traffic from your household and farmhands each day. 

In cases like those, the lack of physical access control could make you more prone to experiencing data breaches. Door locks and cameras can help you verify that only authorized parties access the areas containing computers or ag-tech equipment. 

3. Train Household Members and Staff How to Recognize Phishing Emails

Cybercriminals devise increasingly advanced and realistic ways to get victims to provide sensitive details such as login credentials. Teach all your household members and employees how to spot phishing attempts. 

Explain how cybercriminals often make their messages look authentic by replicating the fonts, graphics and tone used by legitimate companies. Also, discuss how spelling errors and generic greetings — such as “Dear valued customer” — could be red flags associated with phishing efforts. 

Hold phishing training every few months rather than in a single educational session. Cybercriminals regularly devise new tactics, and your teaching should reflect the ever-changing nature of their methods. 

4. Set Up Multifactor Authentication When Possible

Cybersecurity experts at National Australia Bank (NAB) recently discussed how cybercriminals could attack parties in the agricultural sector. Their warnings apply to Australia but are also relevant elsewhere. They brought up how bank account infiltrations often start through phishing emails. For example, a person might get a bogus email asking them to confirm their payment information associated with an ag-tech product. 

If that individual inputs and submits the details, a hacker could easily access the person’s bank account and deplete it of money. NAB experts recommended setting up multifactor authentication to reduce the likelihood of such outcomes. In addition to doing this for your bank account, use this ag-tech cybersecurity measure to lock down all interfaces that connect to farming gadgets. 

Multifactor authentication means people must have more than a password to enter an account. Therefore, even if a hacker gets the password, they lack barrier-free login access. 

5. Monitor Traffic and Data Activity

As early as March 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Cyber Division warned of the risks associated with connected farming. The organization cautioned how disruptions from hackers could cause farm-level problems, plus wreak havoc on the broader agricultural sector. One of the recommendations made related to traffic monitoring. An unfamiliar truck coming up your homestead’s driveway at 11 p.m. would likely cause concern. Strange online traffic should do the same. 

Think about investing in a tool that alerts you to unusual network patterns and data usage. Many solutions send push notifications to your phone, making it simple to know when to look into potential problems further. You can also find options priced for small enterprises and software billed on a month-to-month basis. 

6. Do Business With Companies That Prioritize Farm Tech Security

MarketsandMarkets anticipates the smart agriculture industry to reach $22 billion by 2025. Ag-tech is a fast-growing sector, with many companies clamoring to gain attention from potential new customers. As you peruse the options, focus on the brands that clearly emphasize cybersecurity when developing their connected farming products. 

You’ll likely see dedicated security sections on their website explaining which features make the products comparatively safer from ag-tech data breaches than what competitors offer. Go beyond the information provided and ask security-related questions during your conversations with sales representatives. Evaluate how well those professionals answer your queries and give peace of mind. 

Preparation Prevents Catastrophes

There is no guaranteed way to steer clear of all the risks associated with ag-tech data breaches. The tips on this list will get you off to a strong start, however. Then, you can focus on using technology to help your farm prosper.

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living, sustainable consumption, eco-friendly practices and green energy. In the past, her work has also been featured on Grit, Mother Earth Living, Blue And Green Tomorrow, Dwell and Houzz. To read more from Kayla, follow her productivity and lifestyle blog: Productivity Theory. You can read all of Kayla’s Mother Earth News postshere.

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