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Data For Ransom

Are cyber thieves crawling around in your computer waiting to cash in on a quick payday? You may not think you’re at risk, yet once you put your business online, you become a target for hackers. 

“You can’t rely on the belief that you aren’t large enough or important enough to be attractive to hackers,” says Adam Levin, chairman and founder of CyberScout. “When it comes to hackers, we are all Kim Kardashians.”

Hacking-Chart
Chart Source: Kaspersky Security Bulletin 2016

why farm data?

As you become more reliant on digitized data, you are increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks. A recent alert released by the FBI and USDA drives that point home. It notes that as you employ more precision ag practices, cyber criminals may target the intellectual property being gathered, which could prove useful to competitors at home and overseas.

In addition, a wealth of data is being exchanged electronically with suppliers that is critical to your farm’s function – and critical data can be leveraged by criminals for profit. You could also be at a disadvantage in the negotiation process if a customer, supplier, or competitor has access to that information.

Farm-level data is also vulnerable to ransomware and even destruction. Perpetrators use ransomware to lock you out of your own systems and promise to restore access once a ransom is paid.

“It’s truly a fishing expedition to see who will or won’t pay,” says Christopher Ellis, senior vice president and chief marketing officer with Berkley Re Solutions. “The interesting part is that they keep the ransom low enough so you generally pay it. When you think about it, it’s a smart strategy because you are more inclined to pay a lesser amount to get rid of the nuisance rather than take the time to report it to the authorities.”

The average extortion attempt is between $200 and $1,200. Holding data hostage has become a significant threat to U.S. businesses and individuals. In fact, there was a 300% increase from 2015 to 2016. 

Big-Hack-Chart

a growing business 

According to Gemalto, almost 2 billion data records around the world were lost or stolen by cyber thieves in the first half of 2017. The digital security provider says that’s an increase of 164% compared with the same period last year. It projects that it’s likely to get much worse. 

“The farming sector, like other sectors, is deploying advanced technology with the ability to digitally control farm equipment and likely autonomous systems in the near future,” says an official with the Department of Homeland Security. “As we have seen in other sectors, the cybersecurity risks of these control systems can be an afterthought.” 

With over 100 million acres being filtered through their online system, Farmers Business Network doesn’t take security lightly. 

“We go above and beyond industry standards to build the most secure system possible. It’s essential for you; it’s essential for us as a business,” says Charles Baron, one of the company’s cofounders. “That’s also why it’s important for you to look at the partners you’re working with.”

Beverly Flores agrees. “We are committed to making sure we have robust systems in place – and are continually checking those systems – to prevent a cybersecurity incident,” says Flores, the U.S. and Canada training and events manager for John Deere.

The reality of life on the internet is that no one can guarantee you won’t be hacked. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to protect yourself.

For a small additional premium, Berkley Re Solutions (berkleyre.com/solutions) has developed a product, which it began offering to underwriters in September 2017, that covers a big gap in exposure.

“The Farm Cyber Protection policy combines the personal and commercial exposures uniquely associated with a farm,” says Ellis. “The important part of the policy is that it puts you in touch with the right people to stop the bleeding if you have a breach. Otherwise, you’re running around trying to figure out what to do.” 

a better shield

Hackers are becoming more clever with each passing day. Here are seven tips to safeguard your system.  

1. Back up your data regularly. This could be as simple as copying it to a USB stick and stashing it somewhere safe.

“After putting data into some systems, it often can be modified or analyzed, making the base information difficult or impossible to get back out,” says Ben Craker, AGCO Corporation. “Retaining a copy of your data locally saves not only time but also headaches, especially if down the road you decide to use a different service provider.”

2. If possible, have one computer for family use and one strictly for business. When a computer is used for social media, watching videos, and downloading music, it’s much more likely someone will unknowingly click on a suspicious link or allow malicious software to be installed.

3. Check emails carefully to ensure the request looks valid before responding.

4. Choose passwords wisely. Visit howsecureismypassword.net to learn how long it would take a hacker to crack your password. 

5. Install antivirus software and ensure your operating system is up to date.

6. Create a layered defense by using multifactor authentication.

7. Ask about a company’s online security practices. “A fair question would be what type of insurance is in place to cover any data breaches,” says Craker. “If anything ever goes wrong, knowing there is a plan may help you be more comfortable with that service provider.” 

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