How susceptible is your farm data to hackers?


When we think about cyber hacking, things like election tampering or credit card theft likely come to mind. A recent U.S. Department of Homeland Security report, however, focused on the very real threat of breaches and hacking of precision agriculture data.

As tough as it has been for some to even conceptualize what data being “in the cloud” even means, it’s time to wrap your head around the threat of privacy breaches, stolen data, and malware. For all the hype about big data and precision agriculture, there are potential downsides when it comes to your privacy and data safety, says Todd Janzen, of Janzen Ag Law.

In the interview below, Janzen and RealAg Radio host Shaun Haney discuss what the common threats are to any data, precision ag or not, who may benefit from the unauthorized access or sharing, and how you, as a farmer, can take steps to protect your private data.

Janzen says that one interesting thing found in the Homeland Security report is that the security threat can often be internal — either through carelessness, rushing a product ahead in development, or from a disgruntled employee.

The report also highlights that the largest issue is likely confidentiality. With outsourced programming or lax security measures, data can easily be gleaned illegally. What’s more, Janzen says, the data inserted into data streams can be malicious or faulty — for example, when ventilation systems are run remotely, temperatures in something like a poultry barn could be way out because of a faulty sensor reading. There is very real potential to impact hundreds of barns simultaneously with one incorrect data entry.

There’s so much trust in the companies managing the data — is the precision data industry doing enough? “Some probably are,” Janzen says, but there’s only been a few companies that have gone through a certification process. Most companies need to clearly explain what they’re doing, how data is stored and protected, he says.

How do farmers protect themselves? Janzen says farmers need to ask good questions, and ask lots of them. And, while it seems to defeat the purpose of cloud-based storage, keeping a backup of data, means you always have access to your own data. (Story continues below)

There’s also the threat to food security and trade. Could outside countries be using unsecured data to undercut prices, Haney asks? “That would be the low-hanging fruit, if the goal is to make money with this information,” then Janzen says, the way to do that is “…to get info about a market that the market doesn’t yet have.”.

At this point there likely isn’t any one source who likely has enough information to unduly impact the market. But according to Janzen farmers have to be diligent because as consolidation happens, more unsecured data could be available in one place, and then hackers might be able to do some serious damage.

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