You live and do business in a rural area in the middle of America, far from big cities and their daily traffic jams. So that means your farm or ranch is immune from hackers who have disrupted businesses and governments around the world by taking advantage of weaknesses in Internet or smart phone security, right?
“Farmers and ranchers should be equally as concerned about computer and phone system hacking as any other business enterprise,” says Rex Earl. “The internet has no boundaries. To an attacker, you’re just an IP address. They probe systems for vulnerabilities. If they find a crack, they exploit them, and they do it at the speed of light.”
Earl is chief security officer for Farm Credit Services of America, one of the 16 Farm Credit System associations that offer the AgDirect equipment financing program.
Earl notes the topic of computer and smart phone hacking has been in the news a lot in the past year – recall the impact of hackers on retailers Target and Home Depot and financial services firm J.P. Morgan. A Google search for the term “internet hacking news” produced more than 52 million results in less than a third of a second.
The new generation of smart phones has become a target for enterprising hackers, and every company, large or small, should take care to guard against the loss of sensitive information. Earl advises companies to insist that if such phones are used for business purposes, they need to be encrypted and capable of being wiped clean remotely if they are lost or stolen.
The Weak Link
“Fifteen years ago I’d have said that defending your enterprise was all about technology, building firewalls and doing everything you could to secure your system,” Earl says. “But we’ve learned that the most vulnerable part of any business is the human element.”
Hackers targeting a company will try to find a weak link somewhere in the system. One approach, Earl says, is for hackers to call into a company posing as a vendor.
“They’ll ask an employee to transfer funds to an outside account, usually in another country,” he explains. “They have account numbers and just enough other information to make them sound legitimate. It’s important for the business to have a list of questions that enables family members and employees to determine without a doubt that the caller is not attempting fraud.”
Create a Security Culture
The key to upgrading internal security is to create what Earl calls a “security culture.” Here are three suggestions for producers to consider:
- The question is not if you can get hacked, but more likely when it’s going to happen. No matter where your business is located, you’re not immune to these attacks.
- Practice defense in depth. Raise security awareness among family members and employees. Be sure your technology, both hardware and software, is up to date and is being actively managed. Insist that your vendors have secure systems as well. And be looking down the road to keep an eye out for the next incursion.
- Don’t be the easiest target. That’s what hackers are looking for. If you are well prepared, they’ll skip you and look another place.