Safeguarding Farms: Cybersecurity's Impact

Dec 14, 2023

By Karl Beth, Vice President & COO

Remember the Dr Suess Christmas special “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”? The Grinch was a bad guy and pretended to be Santa Claus to steal all of the Who’s gifts. Thankfully, in the end, the Grinch decides "Maybe Christmas, He Thought ... Doesn't Come From A Store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps ... Means A Little Bit More!" and they all live happily ever after.

Unfortunately, in 2023, the “Bad Guys” rarely turn it around like the Grinch did. With crime on the rise everywhere, we all think much more about security than we used to. Growing up in rural Wisconsin, security meant a padlock on the fuel barrel, a good farm dog, and a shotgun. Today, security has moved well beyond the physical “locking” of buildings and equipment to include securing our technology and data….. Cybersecurity. Current projections estimate the cost of Cyber Crime will reach $8 Trillion (with a T) in 2023!
When was the last time you thought about Cybersecurity? If you are like most, the answer would be “Seldom, Never, or WHAT??”. Regardless of your answer, I am sure you have heard the news stories talking about Data Breaches, Hackers, and Ransomware attacks. While you may think “That could never happen to me”, think again, it can!
According to the FBI, agriculture has become a target for cyberattacks due to the vital part it plays in the US economy, and farms have become easy targets. As farmers have adopted new technology (computers, tablets, smartphones, scanners, autosteer, GPS, robotics, etc.) that make daily operations easier and more productive, they have expanded the number of ways that cybercriminals can disrupt their businesses, because they have not kept up with Cybersecurity. My IT staff could spend a week explaining the many ways that cybercriminals can attack your systems and steal your data, but the one I want to talk about is PHISHING.
Phishing is a criminal pretending to be someone or something they are not in an attempt to trick you into giving them access to your equipment or data. Often they use the name or logo of a trusted person or business in an e-mail, website, or app (Microsoft was used more than 30 million times, Amazon used 6.5 million, DocuSign 3.5 million, Google 2.6 million, Adobe 1.5 million) to trick you into clicking on a link, or responding to a message. Cybercriminals are very good a pretending and can get people to give them information that allows them to access your systems and data without your permission.
There is no perfect way to avoid cyber criminals and their phishing expeditions, but the following list can help you sleep better after reading this article:
  1. Use strong passwords and keep them confidential.
  2. Use MFA along with passwords (Multi-Factor Authentication – you are sent a security code via text, e-mail, or app to be sure the person trying to log on is really you).
  3. Do not click on “Pop Up” ads.
  4. Be suspicious of unexpected e-mails or texts (if in doubt, call the sender on a number that you know or locate yourself).
  5. Look to see if the sender’s name and the actual e-mail address match.
  6. Beware of unnecessary urgency or secrecy in the e-mail or text.
  7. When in doubt, do not open, respond, or click links until verified.
  8. Keep software up to date with security updates.
  9. Consider an Anti-virus software.
  10. Do business with Trusted Vendors like United Cooperative.
I hope you find this information helpful, and you don’t get stuck focusing on all the bad in the world. Be sure to look for the good too, as there is plenty of that around in our neck of the woods, we simply need to notice it. Thank you for your business and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year.

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