Home » cyber security » Hacking the Heartland (Part 1): Old MacDonald Got Hacked
Farm with Windmill

Hacking the Heartland (Part 1): Old MacDonald Got Hacked

What kind of imagery does the term “cyber security landscape” conjure up for you? Chances are, it’s not the wide-open, rolling fields you see on farmlands. In fact, that is the kind of scenery you’d expect to be far removed from the world of hackers and complicated data networks.

But it’s precisely this setting where we’re seeing cyber security concerns rapidly grow.

Like any other type of business, farms are using various technologies to enhance their operations and stay competitive. Common enhancements range from digital storage of crop data to sophisticated “precision agriculture” tools that use GPS and networked data to support more precise management of individual fields.

Farms’ uptake of digital tools has been fairly rapid. In a 2014 survey conducted by the American Farm Bureau Federation, more than half of respondents indicated that they were planning to invest in precision agriculture tools within two years. That’s all well and good on its own. However, only 5 percent could say whether they knew if the partners storing their farm data had incident response plans in case of a data breach. In a similar finding, 87 percent of survey respondents indicated that their own farms had no plans in place for incident response.

It’s clear that standard cyber security measures are lacking at farms, even while tech solutions are growing quickly. Even then, you might wonder: How big a problem is this? What kind of sensitive data could farms be holding that hackers might want to get their hands on? What kind of damage could it cause?

In short, compromising farms’ digital data could cause serious trouble, not only to the farms themselves, but to the entire nation.

Just as the federal government and financial regulators worry about hackers sabotaging the U.S. infrastructure, those involved in the agriculture industry should consider what could happen if hackers were to sabotage the data used to manage the nation’s crops. The net effect could be even more devastating.

As fits the potential effect of the situation, the FBI in March issued a warning to farmers about the cyber security risk potential of precision agriculture tools. Accompanying the call for awareness, the bureau offered a set of recommendations to help mitigate their risks. These include:

  • Monitoring employee logins after hours
  • Using two-factor authentication
  • Conducting regular privacy training
  • Setting up a VPN
  • Monitoring outgoing data and unusual traffic
  • Closing unused ports

Lunarline helps clients from all types of industry backgrounds, both large and small, control their risks with secure network and policy development, training programs, secure configuration tools and more. To learn more about these solutions and how they help protect against data breaches, contact us today or visit us online at Lunarline.com.

This is the first article in a three-part series on agriculture and cyber security.

About Spence Witten

Spence has somehow survived ten years at start-ups and small businesses without suffering a (major) nervous breakdown. As Lunarline's Director of Federal Sales, Spence actually loves working on proposals. If there were any doubt, this is proof that he is in fact certifiably insane. While his title says "Sales" Lunarline doesn't let him off that easy. We make him do real work, too. Luckily he's a recognized subject matter expert in security policy and loves helping clients navigate their way around tricky security compliance standards. He's also been known to lead a software development initiative or two, though that pretty much always ends poorly for everyone involved. He can be reached at spence.witten@lunarline.com.