Precision Ag Companies Strive for Cybersecurity, but Hacking Threat Remains

There is no such thing as an unhackable system if it’s connected to the Internet to share data. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo)

Can U.S. farmers and ranchers take advantage of the benefits precision agriculture promises and still be assured their data is protected?

One well-known precision ag business, linking producers and their data with the rest of agriculture, is Trimble. Cory Buchs, director of Trimble’s Connected Farm platform, understands concerns farmers have over companies’ abilities to protect that data.

“Carbon credits, collecting data to help make better decisions … all of these type things provide value. We can’t let the value overwhelm the importance of having security around the collection process. Rather it’s that very value that makes securing this data all the more important, especially as we interact with third parties and move data from devices, storage in the cloud, etc.”

In upcoming weeks, DTN/Progressive Farmer is posting a special series called Cybersecurity and Ag to examine the threat cyberattackers pose to agriculture and explore what farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses can do to protect themselves against these high-tech criminals.

Buchs says there is a lot a company like Trimble can do to protect farmers’ data, but there is also a need for all of agriculture to do a better job in the area of education about best technology practices on the farm.

“I think trends today tell us we will see more attempts at hacking,” he says. “That should only increase a company’s determination to stay ahead of those threats. It’s kind of a race of sophistication on both sides. If you’re a farmer, you have to ensure you only trust data to someone willing to invest in security protocols, processes, and tools that are current and will ensure the security of your data. We do that at Trimble, and most of the larger, more established companies in the ag space do as well.”

Buchs cautions it’s sometimes more of a risk to work with startup businesses, where there may be fewer resources available to invest in the areas of security protocol. He says companies should be transparent when asked by users, or potential users, about processes and procedures for security. There are also resources to help laypeople evaluate companies, including online sources to see companies that have been hacked.

Buchs notes the best companies have put into place tools for immediate intrusion detection and vulnerability scanning analytics. They rely on tools including multi-factor authentication, which he says is a proven way of protecting client data at the first line of attack. These protocols require more than one device to log in.

In Trimble’s case, Buchs adds cybersecurity has benefitted from being part of a larger, global company with divisions outside of agriculture in the construction and geospatial industries, that have similar challenges to solve.

Reputable companies, Buchs stresses, make it a point to invest in security, and they have backups. “Given the value of a farm’s data it’s critical to have backups and to be able to recover data if something happens,” he says.

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