New guidance is being issued to farmers to help them protect themselves from cyber attacks such as spoof adverts, scam emails and malicious software.
A combined response by the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the online document aims to provide farmers with the tools they need to protect themselves from the most common cyber attacks
Between 2014 – 18 the total income from farming in the South East between was a staggering £425,000,000 (DEFAR aggregate agricultural accounts). With income being so high, the farming and agricultural sector is a growing interest to cyber criminals.
Attacks on the rise
In 2019 more than 60% of agricultural businesses reported one or more attacks, compared with 45% in 2018, according to one cyber security company.
Official statistics continue to show a rise in reports of cyber attacks against the farming community, with many falling foul to spoof farm machinery adverts that can leave farmers thousands of pounds out of pocket.
Farming and technology
Whether it’s using livestock tags to monitor the welfare of your animals or drones to survey the health of your crops, the increased use of technology and farm management systems can help farmers increase productivity and reduce labour numbers and costs. Alongside the many advantages and efficiencies of embracing technology, it can also bring with it challenges. Like all businesses, farms hold employee, supplier and customer data that can be targeted, so systems need to be secure.
In the guidance, NFU Deputy President, Stuart Roberts said: “Cyber attacks can be devastating for businesses and the individuals who are victims to fraudulent activity. “It can affect agricultural businesses in a number of ways, including leaking of confidential data or financial losses. “As farms rely more on technologies such as GPS, remote sensing and unmanned vehicles, the risks increase.”
With cyber criminals becoming increasingly sophisticated and finding new ways to steal passwords, money or data, farmers need to be aware of the risks and invest in cyber security, Mr Roberts added.
The new guidance
The new NFU/NCSC guidance identifies the main digital aspects that are at threat on farms from the computers farmers use to send their emails and run their farm management software, to their automated machinery, security cameras and smartphones.
“You must also consider all the online accounts that you use,” it advises. “This means banking, email and social media, but also things like the Rural Payments service, HMRC online services, online shopping and cloud document storage.”
Top tips for improved cyber security
• Ensure computers and mobile phones are set to install automatic updates
• Replace old hardware, which may be more vulnerable to attack
• Back up your data – perhaps on an external hard drive or USB stick or a cloud-based option
• Switch on password protection and use fingerprint or face ID on mobile devices
• Use things like tracking modes and remote data erasing modes on mobile devices
• Download anti-virus products to protect from “malware” (malicious software)
• Activate firewalls to create a buffer between your network and the internet
The guidance also offers advice on password creation, spotting and dealing with scam emails, texts and phone calls, and details of where to go for help.