Farmers are being urged to protect their businesses against cybercrime – with more growers and livestock producers using online tools to improve productivity.
Cybercrime is among the most common form of wrongdoing, with nearly half of businesses experienced some form of digital attack in the last year, according to the government’s 2020 Cyber Security Breaches Survey.
Food security expert Louise Manning, of the Royal Agricultural College, said farmers should approach online business tools with caution – but shouldn’t avoid them altogether because they could improve business efficiency.
“Digital solutions bring great benefits, allowing farmers to be in charge of their own data and manage their system more effectively, whether it’s real-time accounting, monitoring crop or livestock growth, or other aspects of their business. It’s all at their fingertips.”
More farmers are turning to external support services to save time and hassle while ensuring protection, according to according to Andrew Smith, hardware manager at agricultural software provider Farmplan.
“Whether it’s protecting their personal data or effectively utilising cloud backups, many farmers understandably would prefer to focus on farming instead of digital administration,” said Mr Smith.
“We have worked closely with many farmers – which can be done online, as our LogMeIn facility can permit us access remotely – who know that the risks are very real but wish to seek external support to ensure the right level of protection and peace of mind.”
Viruses are harmful but can generally be protected against by investing in robust antiviral software and a secure backup system. Crucially, this must be kept up to date, including the operating system.
Unfortunately, attacks can be more sophisticated than viruses. Indeed, the government’s own research shows a rise of over 10% in crimes involving ransomware and phishing in the last three years.
Phishing is the creation of emails that appear to be reputable and from real companies, requesting sign-in information or other personal details. These can look uncannily close to the real thing, but can easily result in user details being stolen.
Ransomware is even more sinister. It’s malicious software that blocks a user’s system (or captures personal data, including video and images direct from the user’s webcam) to blackmail for significant sums.
Risk and exposure.
Professor Manning says there are several layers of exposure. There is clear risk to the victim’s business – not just the immediate payment, but in loss of reputation and weakening relationships with their customers.
“Everybody is affected by cybercrime, from smallholders right through to significant commercial farms and large estates. There is a similarly large spectrum of cybercriminal. Some are bored hackers, while others are much more professional.”
Mr Smith said: “Unfortunately, criminals are not so considerate. Taking the necessary precautions is common sense. As with other crimes, the more difficult you make it for criminals, the less likely they are to prey on you.”