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Four 'cyber hygiene' steps for your farm

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Agricultural cooperatives are of particular concern during critical planting and harvest seasons.

Security experts are urging all farmers, including pork producers, to make cybersecurity a top priority for their businesses. This type of criminal activity continues to target America's food industry. 

The FBI informed the food and agriculture sector that ransomware actors are more likely to attack. The agency says agricultural cooperatives are of particular concern during critical planting and harvest seasons. These events can disrupt operations, causing economic loss and negatively impacting the food supply chain. The FBI notes ransomware attacks during these seasons happened against grain cooperatives during the fall 2021 harvest and in early 2022. That could impact the planting season by disrupting the supply of seeds and fertilizer.1 

"Our role is to fight these crimes," says Kevin Varpness, supervisory special agent, Federal Bureau of Investigation for the Cyber and Counterintelligence Squad in Nashville. "We want to intercept this activity before it has any financial implications for your business. We can offer advice, but it's up to you to decide what to do."

Varpness advocates that producers take recommended security steps2. This includes knowing what all your vendors are doing for cybersecurity and making sure all employees are following best practices. Today, that entails doing thorough screenings of new and existing employees for any possible outside threats to your computer networks.  

"We have seen cases where criminals will bait people with information about the person's insurance company or policy information," Varpness says. "Don't let anyone trick you into giving out your passwords, bank routing numbers, etc. If they do manage to get your information, you need to contact the FBI in 72 hours or less by calling your local office or visiting ic3.gov."

As senior vice president of management liability and client experience for Marsh & McLennan Agency's Upper Midwest Region, Dan Hanson says cybersecurity is about 80% to 90% of what they do for client risk mitigation today.  

"Cyber is a crime of opportunity," Hanson says. "They're looking for weakness wherever they can find it. That can make for a systemic impact such as the food chain. It's important to take steps today to protect yourself because it's not a matter of if they'll strike, but when."

According to Hanson, you need to think about how you would respond should the worst happen or if you fell victim to ransomware or other types of cyberattack. He recommends that everyone have an incident-response plan, like other types of emergencies.3  

The federal government's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency offers a wealth of information about the entire topic of ransomware and how you can protect yourself and your business. However, the basics of cybersecurity only require remembering these four steps of "cyber hygiene"4

  • You’ll be 99% less likely to get hacked by implementing multifactor authentication on your accounts.  
  • Update your software and turn on automatic updates.  
  • Think before you click. More than 90% of successful cyberattacks start with a phishing email.  
  • Use a password manager to generate and store unique passwords or assign your own strong passwords.  

References
1 FBI, Private Industry Notification, April 2022, https://www.ic3.gov/Media/News/2022/220420-2.pdf

2 FBI, Private Industry Notification, April 2022, p. 3. https://www.ic3.gov/Media/News/2022/220420-2.pdf

3 Cyber Security Planning Guide, Federal Communications Commission, IRR-1 – IRR-2.

4 https://www.cisa.gov/4-things-you-can-do-keep-yourself-cyber-safe

Source: National Pork Board, which is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset. 

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