Alberta farmers are increasingly tech-savvy, using computer programs to calculate the need for soil additives, determine the best feed mix for cattle, and regulate the environment in poultry barns, to name just a few applications. Many farmers today use online services to keep farm records, pay bills, and stay up to date with farming news. The technology is used in a positive way, directing resources where they are most needed, streamlining tasks, and facilitating communications among participants in the operation.
As farms increasingly adopt Information Technology (IT) they enter the same arena of cyber threat as any other business that uses IT. The risk was noted at the recent FarmTech trade show in Edmonton, where David Masson, a presenter at the show, spoke to an Edmonton Journal reporter saying, “They (farmers) have the same IT systems and the same IT security problem as anywhere else in the world. When you look at a big barn with all the cows inside, it’s a factory with a lot of machinery and it’s being worked by electronic systems. So it is very, very similar in terms of what cyber threat actors would want to steal.”
Cyber thieves are looking for any information that can be fraudulently used for financial gain: social insurance numbers, credit card numbers, passwords, banking information, and access to interconnected systems. Keep in mind that your own and your employees’ information may be stored on the farm computer.
Basic security measures include the following:
- Delete suspicious emails and do not click on links from unknown sources.
- Hover the mouse over an email address or website URL to see if it matches the expected address.
- Watch for senders that use a public email address (like gmail) that is supposedly from a bank, government agency or corporation.
- Do not give your financial or other information in response to an email urgently demanding it.
- Watch for misspelled words or fuzzy logos, although this tip becomes less useful as fraudsters improve their skills.
- Change passwords regularly and do not use the same one for multiple sites.
- Be aware that cyber criminals often mine social media for personal information, enabling them to compose emails that look legitimate. Use discretion in the information you post publicly.
- Be cautious about pop ups on websites.
- Invest in a good security program, possibly with the advice of a reputable computer expert.