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Cybersecurity Threats in Ag — a Growing Concern

 

Cybersecurity Threats in Ag — a Growing Concern


Apr 12, 2019
Agribusiness

Today’s agriculture practices are not the same as when I was a kid growing up on a large dairy farm in Minnesota. Sure, we had automation in our milking parlor and for some of our machinery, but we definitely were not dependent on the internet to operate our farm.   

Things have changed. Today’s farmer or agribusiness owner faces the same challenges when it comes to cyber threats that all business owners face. Risks include data theft, lost resources, reputation damage, destruction of equipment and competitors gaining a financial advantage. The digital world and connectivity are vital to the success of today’s agribusiness owner — and implementing proper cybersecurity controls are not only good business sense but also paramount to maintaining a competitive advantage.

Just like for a financial institution or a health care entity, a strong cybersecurity program for ag focuses on ensuring the confidentiality of information, the integrity of data and the availability of data when it is needed. Confidentiality, integrity and availability (or “CIA”) are the fundamental building blocks of a cybersecurity program, and threats from malicious actors or natural disasters impact one or more of these foundational items. 

Specific threats in the Ag industry include:

1. Loss of Confidential Information

Farmers and agribusiness owners need to be very protective of their information, including land prices, feed formulas, herd information, hedging contracts, crop yields and financing arrangements. The loss of any of this information could put the business owner in a disadvantageous situation.

2. Data Interruption or Alteration

With the move to “smart farming” and the use of sensors installed in both cattle and equipment, even a small change in data can change the results when it comes to altering fertilizing or watering levels, HVAC systems installed in building, etc.

3. Lack of Available Equipment When Needed

Cyber threats can disrupt the sensors in farm implements, which can result in a shorter planting season or a delay in harvesting. Poorly patched systems can also result equipment being unavailable.

So, what can be done to reduce the risks for agribusiness owners? Similar to other industries, we would recommend starting with the following:

  • Complete a Cybersecurity Risk Assessment: Completing this assessment will identify the threats and risks that your ag business faces. From the risk assessment, a cyber roadmap can be developed that will assist in managing the cyber risks.
  • Inventory all network and hardware devices used in the ag business: This includes servers, routers, mobile devices, laptops and notebooks. Having an inventory will help identify all authorized and unauthorized devices.
  • Inventory all software applications: Knowing what software is used in the ag business will help manage the security updates and patches that may be necessary.
  • Security awareness training: Increasing cybersecurity knowledge — including threats, risks and controls — will benefit the ag business owner and employees. All associated with the business should participate in the cybersecurity training.

Today’s ag business environment is definitely different from the one that I grew up in. The risks from cybersecurity threats are real, and being impacted by a cyberattack can have significant financial and reputational implications to your ag business. Managing your cyber risks can pay big dividends if you are proactive now versus responding when in a crisis. 

Questions about your cyber risk? Contact me at bcedergren@wipfli.com or 612.263.9823. Click here to learn more about how you can have peace of mind when it comes to managing your cyber risk.

Author(s)

Robert Cedergren
Robert D. Cedergren, CPA, CGMA, CITP, CISM, CISA, CGEIT
Partner In Charge, Risk Advisory Services
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