Farm technology vulnerable to cyber attack

Grain Central, November 10, 2016

ipadTECHNOLOGY is helping farmers become more productive and profitable, but it can also make them vulnerable to cybercrime.

National Australia Bank’s (NAB) chief information security officer, Andrew Dell, says the FBI has alerted the American food and agricultural sector to the fact that cyber criminals might target information gathered as part of their precision agriculture or smart farming processes.

“This intellectual property could be very useful to competitors at home and overseas and the risk isn’t limited to the United States,” Mr Dell said.

“Australian farmers shouldn’t underestimate the value of their business data, especially given the importance of our agricultural export industry.

“These days, most farmers deal electronically with their suppliers and their customers. A lot of data is being exchanged which is critical to the functioning of the operation – and critical data can be leveraged by criminals for profit.

“Farmers could also be at a disadvantage in the negotiation process if a customer, supplier or competitor has access to their business information.”

Data held to ransom

Beyond Technology Consulting senior partner, Greg Spencer, said some cyber criminals attempted to blackmail business owners by locking them out of their own systems and promising to restore access once a ransom had been paid.

“Many larger enterprises are now using supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, which use coded signals over communication channels to allow users to monitor and control systems such as irrigation remotely,” Mr Spencer said.

“Criminals know they have potential to cause chaos by hacking into systems like these, so their demands are likely to be high.”

How to protect your agribusiness

Basic cyber protection doesn’t have to be expensive. Mr Dell suggests starting with five simple steps:

  • Back up your business data on a regular basis. This could be as simple as copying it on to a USB stick and stashing it somewhere safe. Test to make sure your backups are working.
  • If possible, have one computer for general family use and one that is strictly for business. When a computer is used for social media, playing games, watching videos and downloading music it’s much more likely that someone will unwittingly click on a suspicious link or allow malicious software to be installed.
  • Check emails carefully (look at the sender address, ensure the request looks valid, is the email expected?) before responding to them. Some common scam emails look as if they come from Australia Post, the Australian Tax Office, the Australian Federal Police or an energy company.
  • Install anti-virus software on your computers and use an up-to-date operating system – but remember these are not foolproof. Malware may be sent to your computer before the anti-virus companies are aware of it.
  • Remember that your business relies on other people’s computers as well as your own. Don’t be afraid to ask your accountant, bookkeeper or business manager about their online security practices.

If you’ve made a substantial investment in technology, Mr Spencer recommends talking to an impartial advisor.

“People who sell the equipment might downplay the risks while people who sell cyber security might recommend more protection than is strictly necessary,” he said.

“No-one can guarantee that you won’t be hacked – we regularly read about breaches of security in companies that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on protection.”

For easy to understand computer security advice for home use and SME business, visit

To see the latest scams, or to report a scam, visit

Source: NAB


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