Ways to Keep Your Farm Data Safe

It’s no secret that data is becoming more and more ubiquitous with everyday farming, whether it’s logging spray records or digitizing payroll management. More data is being logged electronically and stored remotely. So, as your farm becomes more digital, is your farm at risk for hackers and ransomware?

Yes, it could be, says Tim Marquis, Director of Heavy Equipment Sales with Uptake. Marquis offers some tips to help you get started in securing your data.

“This isn’t something that’s going to require a ton of money. These are just best practices that growers can take the initiative on that really don’t cost much to help secure their data.”

Tim Marquis

Tim Marquis

He says the general idea is to make your operation’s security as inconvenient to access as possible.

“They’re going to find the lowest hanging fruit of how they can get somewhere to install their ransomware,” he says of hackers. “You want to make it so difficult — depending on the sensitivity level of your data — that someone is going to pass you by because it would take too long to figure out how to hack in or how to get your data.”

Before you begin to think about digital security, it’s a good idea to make sure your physical facility is secure. This, Marquis says, is as simple as ensuring that the location where your data and laptops are is secure with a lock.

“These can be as simple as having a dead bolt, putting a lock on the doors to keep things out or it can be as complicated as having badge readers that log activity of someone going in and out of the room,” he says.

Yes, this is an added step, and your farm is probably somewhat isolated, so locks may not be something you see as a necessity. But if your data is as easy to get to as opening a door and firing up a computer, you’re very susceptible.

While locking the area where you store computers and data is a great first step, Marquis says you should think about levels of security when it comes to accessing your data. It’s safe to say that not all your employees need to access the same amount of data.

“What you don’t want to do is have the same user and password and give that to everybody because you can’t track how people are accessing,” he says. “When you have workers that need to access data or access your system, set up custom passwords and permissions about what they can see and what they can do with that software.”

He calls this “least level of access.” Think about the minimum level of data each employee needs to see to perform their job. It’s unlikely a picker needs to see much data at all.

“It’s not locking everything in a vault, it’s about putting up the layers necessary based on how impactful and valuable that data is and how you need to secure it,” he says.

Marquis says it’s critical to monitor devices on your network. Review your network activity from time-to-time, and look for suspicious behaviors.

“A sign of a hack for growers who have pivots could be a pivot turned on randomly at 3 am. You would have a log of when it was turned on and off. Those are signs that something locally was hacked and they’re testing your system,” he says. “Try to keep an eye out by monitoring your Wi-Fi network and making sure it’s secure.”

If that happens, first understand why then assess whether there’s a security risk with the device that had just been exposed.

As you’re shopping for any new technology to implement — whether that’s sensors, IoT irrigation system, smart pivot, or any remote data logging system, you need to ask the companies how they secure each device.

“Have you validated how secure your edge device is? What measures do you take to only allow authorized users to access this device?” he says. “Authorized user, password encryption, ISO standards — those are terms you should hear when you ask that question that will give you confidence that they’ve thought about this issue,” he says.

Some vendors will also have third-party assessments to verify the device’s security.

“We shouldn’t let security be the fear factor that halts adoption, but it should be a part of the conversation about how we secure these smart devices so that they won’t cause a failure,” he says.

When it comes to securing your data, Marquis says, “it’s about the weakest link in the fence. You just have to make yourself more difficult to get access to that data than the next guy.”

Adding locks and extra login steps may seem inconvenient, but an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure.

“These are proactive steps for you to prevent yourself from being a victim of a security incident,” he says.