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Often outdated virus protection and farm data transfers open your computer gates to cybersecurity breaches. Consider 6 preventive tips.

John Vogel, Editor, American Agriculturist

June 1, 2015

4 Min Read

Nobody is going to hack your home computer or one in the farm office, right? Well, think again. All you have to do is relax your cybersecurity defense.


At least 50% of on-farm computers have outdated, ineffective protection – and contain sensitive financial and personal information such as credit card information, bank accounts and Social Security numbers. And they open the gate to cybercrime via data transfer. Cyber threat concerns are a top operational risk, affirms Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White. “I don’t think we can give it a high enough priority in terms of trying to assess the risks that are there, assess the vulnerabilities, [and] clearly come up with strategies that best prevent, detect and then respond to cyber attacks.”

So consider the following advice from Stambaugh Ness financial consulting, headquartered in York, Pa.

Take preventive, proactive action
Given the impact that breaches can have and the level of sophistication shown by perpetrators in recent breaches, it’s not a matter of if a breach will occur, but when and how it’ll occur. Cyber data — including financial data, sensitive customer information and employee records stored on the cloud or on your computer system are some of the most valuable intangible assets you must protect. Consider these cyber protection best management practices:

Think big – and small: Many hackers operate overseas, making them harder to identify and prosecute. So, think globally when assessing your cyber breach risks.

Hacks are often perpetrated through the victim’s small or midsize vendors. Think about what you might download from, for instance, ag support businesses. Smaller companies often lack the resources to put strong security measures in place — and hackers are ready, willing and able to take advantage.

Consider the security breaches that caused compromised Target and even the Internal Revenue Service. Hackers reportedly from Russia wormed their way into both systems via service vendors with lax security.

Consider limiting outside access to computer systems with sensitive data. That may necessitate having crop management information on a separate system, for instance.

Some businesses require vendors to verify their network security protocols. Some companies are establishing cyber security ratings — similar to credit scores — based on the amount of traffic to a company’s website coming from servers are linked to cybercrime. As those ratings become more refined, managers may choose to avoid doing business with high-risk customers and suppliers.

Engage in ‘cyber hygiene’: Protecting against cyber threats is an ongoing challenge, not a one-time event. Every time a software, hardware or application manufacturer releases an update or patch, install it immediately on every device in a systematic fashion.


Why? Hackers constantly troll for the latest patches and updates because they show where vulnerabilities exist. If hackers are nimble, they can exploit these vulnerabilities to steal data before customers have a chance to install the fix.

Rotate your passwords: Another useful prevention strategy is requiring periodic changes to log-in passwords. Hacked passwords can cause a domino effect, because people tend to use the same password for multiple accounts.

For example, when Adobe lost 33 million customers’ log-in credentials, other websites discovered that their accounts were being accessed using passwords stolen from Adobe. Some companies also use a security question or require users to select a preferred image to add another layer of identity verification.

For practical tips on password protection click on Cut your risk of being cybersnared .

Limit access: How many devices do you connect to the Web and to your computer system with? Be sure to count the tablets, smartphones and extra laptops.

When employees take these devices out of the office, they expose data to less-than-secure home networks and public hotspots that provide wireless Internet access. Evaluate which devices need to be connected to the Web and take steps to minimize off-site risks. Consider limiting which employees can work from home, educating employees about the risks of cyber breaches and installing encryption software on devices that link to external networks.

Encryption may create compatibility issues when sharing data with other companies. And that can slow down data transmission. But it can be a powerful and cost-effective tool in the battle against cybercrime.


Seek outside help: Cyber security is an important task that few businesses and organizations can handle exclusively in-house. Consider seeking outside help to reinforce your current information technology (IT) policies and procedures.

Another popular security measure is cyber liability insurance. Professional and general business liability insurance policies generally don’t cover losses related to hacking incidences.

Insure against it: Cyber liability insurance can cover a variety of risks, depending on the scope of the policy. It typically protects against liability or losses that come from unauthorized access to your company’s electronic data and software.

Instead of purchasing a stand-alone cyber liability policy, you can add a cyber liability endorsement to your errors and omissions policy. Not surprisingly, the coverage through the endorsement isn’t as extensive as the coverage in a stand-alone policy.

Cyber-risk assessment should be an important part of year-end audit procedure for every business. Failure to protect valuable intangibles against cyber-breaches can be a costly liability.

About the Author(s)

John Vogel

Editor, American Agriculturist

For more than 38 years, John Vogel has been a Farm Progress editor writing for farmers from the Dakota prairies to the Eastern shores. Since 1985, he's been the editor of American Agriculturist – successor of three other Northeast magazines.

Raised on a grain and beef farm, he double-majored in Animal Science and Ag Journalism at Iowa State. His passion for helping farmers and farm management skills led to his family farm's first 209-bushel corn yield average in 1989.

John's personal and professional missions are an integral part of American Agriculturist's mission: To anticipate and explore tomorrow's farming needs and encourage positive change to keep family, profit and pride in farming.

John co-founded Pennsylvania Farm Link, a non-profit dedicated to helping young farmers start farming. It was responsible for creating three innovative state-supported low-interest loan programs and two "Farms for the Future" conferences.

His publications have received countless awards, including the 2000 Folio "Gold Award" for editorial excellence, the 2001 and 2008 National Association of Ag Journalists' Mackiewicz Award, several American Agricultural Editors' "Oscars" plus many ag media awards from the New York State Agricultural Society.

Vogel is a three-time winner of the Northeast Farm Communicators' Farm Communicator of the Year award. He's a National 4-H Foundation Distinguished Alumni and an honorary member of Alpha Zeta, and board member of Christian Farmers Outreach.

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