What you Need to Know About the Future of Farm Technology and Cybersecurity.

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has affected the daily lives of people around the world. Measures to contain the virus such as social distancing and quarantining at home, has forced many businesses to be more reliant on technology than normal to keep their businesses afloat and functioning effectively. With this increased digital dependence, comes an increased risk of potential data breaches.

A Farm Journal Pulse survey of 643 farmers reported that less than 20 percent feel confident in their data security. Ensuring data security as we rely on technology now more than ever in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is vital. In this article we discuss,

  • The challenges businesses are facing in a time of technological dependency;
  • How farmers and business owners can protect themselves from cyber threats; and
  • What AgAmerica is doing to ensure ongoing data protection to best serve our nation’s farmers.

American farmer walking his land.

Read More About COVID-19’s Impact on Agriculture

What are the Main Technological Challenges Farmers are Facing During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Adapting to a Remote Workforce with Limited Farm Labor

The need to work remotely during this time is creating many obstacles and roadblocks as businesses adapt to a more virtual space. Even with technological capabilities, the personal connection, communication, and culture of businesses will take time to adjust to this new reality. There is also a training process for digital transitions which can be difficult for some, with learning curves that require time and patience.

In the agriculture industry, working remotely is a particularly difficult situation. CEO of Farm Journal, Andy Weber, recognized this issue and provided a solution for connecting with customers through the Farm Journal Engagement Tool Kit.

Although current events will only perpetuate the trend further, the advancement of automated farm technology was happening long before the novel coronavirus reached our shores. A Caledonia Solution’s study reported that precision technology adoption doubled on farms from 2013 to 2019. These adopters saw an 11 percent average increase in crop production and a 9 percent average decrease of input expenses.

As spring planting rapidly approaches and food security concerns grow, farm and ranch operators will rely more on automated equipment to optimize efficiency and meet consumer demand with fewer workers. Automated equipment is linked together in the internet-of-things (IoT), through a network of programmable logic controllers (PLCs). IoT technology integration provides farmers access to metrics that analyze and measure a farm operation’s success. The implementation of information-based technology enables farmers to make data-driven decisions and provides maximum usability of crop through cloud-based computing. There is software available to fine tune soil properties and create site-specific fertilizer. Smart technology also can monitor crop stress, pest outbreaks, and provide weather predictions from advanced weather models.

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To learn more about the implications of worker shortages on agriculture, download AgAmerica’s Farm Labor Shortage publication.

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Increase in Vulnerability to Cyber Attacks

Technology has the capacity to help farmers and ranchers combat farm labor shortage while maintaining global demand, but it does come with its own set of challenges. Adoption of smart technology means farmers and ranchers will have a higher risk of cyberattacks. While big corporations are typically most susceptible, increasing digitalization within small and mid-size operations will make them a target for scammers as well.

Phishing campaigns are among the most common cyber threats and involve malicious links sent via email. These links contain malware that—when clicked—give cybercriminals access to financial information and the potential to manipulate digital operating systems. The Jahns Research Group refers to these smart technology disruptions as AAAA Threats—cyber-attacks, cyber-accidents, acts of nature, and AI control threats— and can inhibit the planting and cultivation of crops. Compromised data can also interfere with the transportation and processing of agricultural goods.

What are the Most Effective Strategies to Keep Farm Operations Secure

The magnitude of impact cyberthreats can have on our nation’s food supply should make securing data and operational technology a top priority among farmers. There are several simple strategies farmers and ranchers can implement to protect themselves from potential cybersecurity threats.

Have a Screening Policy for Phishing Campaigns

Phishing campaigns are relatively easy to spot when you know what to look for. Cybercriminals are using the COVID-19 pandemic as collateral for new phishing campaigns. These emails appear as though they’re from the CDC or other health organizations with links regarding important information on the virus. Before hastily clicking on links from what you believe to be reputable sources, check for these signs of a phishing email scam:

  • Senders email address – usually does not match the sender’s name and seems off.
  • Generic Greeting Hi Sir or Hi Mam.
  • Spelling Errors – odd grammatical errors and sentence structure.
  • Sense of Urgency – telling you to click immediately or limited supplies available.
  • Request of Personal Information – reputable companies will not ask for personal or financial information through email or text.

Protect User Credentials

If multiple people are accessing your software, use separate login credentials with different access options when possible. Updating passwords every quarter will keep data more secure and out of the wrong hands.

Backup Files

In the event of ransomware infiltrating data, be sure to back-up your data frequently. You can do this through different computers, on a secure cloud, or both.

Keep Software Updated

Software updates often fix flaws within the system. While it might take a few extra minutes to run updates when they are available, doing so decreases software vulnerability and the chances of it being taken over by malware.

Have a Contingency Plan in Place

According to a 2014 Farm Bureau survey, 87 percent of farmers do not have a contingency plan in place in the event of a security breach. Only one in 20 farmers surveyed said the companies managing their information had provided a plan for them.

Avoid Releasing Sensitive Information Through Written Forms of Communication

To protect yourself and your employees, save the transfer of sensitive data for verbal or in-person interactions. Avoid transmitting personal information through emails, texts, or other forms of online messaging. If you do need to send digitally, ensure that you are encrypting the email prior to sending it.

Stay Informed

As we approach a potential recession in the wake of the coronavirus, it’s important to stay connected and informed on cybersecurity in agriculture. The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) has provided a compilation of safety recommendations to avoid cyber scams throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

How is AgAmerica Ensuring Data Security?

AgAmerica is committed to maintaining communication and transparency with our clients through this trying time. Our team is working tirelessly to help the American Farmer to the best of our abilities. We have data security protocols and robust safeguards—such as data encryption and malware protection—in place to protect our clients and employees. Our mobile-friendly website makes it easy for farmers to navigate and access their information with ease. We also conduct annual vulnerability testing and ongoing cybersecurity training for our employees to ensure they are implementing online safety procedures, while working remotely and in the office. The changing climate of the world is shifting to a more digital space. Growing dependence on IoT technology is among the many ways the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the agricultural industry.

AgAmerica is using the rapid evolution of technology to continuously assess loan options and create innovative financing solutions for American farmers. Contact one of our Relationship Managers to discuss your farm financing needs and together we will overcome this unprecedented obstacle.

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