04 Aug, 2021

Keep Your Farm and Personal Data Safe

"As more farms rely on email, online banking, apps, e-commerce and automated farming equipment, it is vital to manage the risks associated with these technologies,” says Philip O’Connor, head of farm Support at Ifac.

Almost 80% of farmers surveyed for our 2021 Irish Farm Report now use technology in their business every day.

While this brings advantages, it also introduces digital and cyber risks that farmers need to understand and manage, with financial losses and the leaking of confidential data being two of the major worries.

“As more farms rely on email, online banking, apps, e-commerce and automated farming equipment, it is vital to manage the risks associated with these technologies,” says Philip O’Connor, head of farm Support at Ifac.

In the UK, the National Farmers Union and National Cyber Security Centre recently published a guide outlining the practical steps that farmers can take to stay safe online and protect and their businesses.

Below are some of these suggested measures including keeping systems updated, using strong passwords, maintaining regular backups, controlling access to accounts and devices, avoiding malware and being vigilant about scams:

  • Keep devices up to date: The easiest way to keep devices, software and apps up to date is to install updates automatically

  • Replace outdated computers: Old computers are more vulnerable to attack, as well as being more likely to develop faults that could result in the loss of data

  • Back-Up Your Data: Making regular backups of your important data and keeping them off-premises will save you from the worst effects of a malware or ransomware attack

  • Keep your devices safe: Keep all of your devices safe, particularly if you use the same devices for business and personal work

  • Switch on password protection: Activate authentication such as screen lock, PIN, fingerprint, or FaceID for your computer, mobile phone, and other devices

  • Use an encryption product: Encrypt your data to prevent unauthorised access

  • Track lost and stolen devices: Most devices have free, web-based tools that you can enable to track the location of the device, lock it remotely, erase data remotely, and retrieve a backup of data stored on the device

  • Beware of malware and ransomware: Malware is usually designed to steal or extort money from you, often by holding your data to ransom. It can lock your device or make it unusable. Malware can attack your laptop and mobile phone, but it can also target anything which connects to the internet. To protect against malware, keep an up-to-date backup separate from your computer and consider using cloud services to back up your files

  • Antivirus software: Make sure your antivirus protection is turned on and up to date

  • Attachments and links: Don’t open attachments or links unless you know and trust the source

  • Passwords: Criminals rely on the fact that a lot of people use simple passwords and/or use the same password for all of their accounts. Make sure that you use separate passwords for each of your devices and online accounts, especially email accounts. Wherever possible, make the password strong and for your most important accounts, make it unique. Consider using a password manager. For every new device you start using, including your Wi-Fi network, change the manufacturer’s default password to your own. If you write down your passwords, store them securely, away from your device

  • Turn on two-factor authentication: Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a free security feature that provides an extra layer of protection to your online accounts. It means that even if a criminal knows your password, they won’t be able to access your accounts

  • Social media and online presence: Don’t allow the information you and your employees share online to increase the vulnerability of your business. When using social media think about what you are posting, and who has access to it. Use privacy options to control who can see your information. Control who can access your accounts and make sure all accounts have unique passwords and use 2FA. Check that your website host is a legitimate company with the correct security settings and also think about the protection you might need if you have an online shop or booking system

  • Be vigilant about scam emails, text messages, and phone calls: A typical scam will try to convince you to click a link, sending you to a website that could download viruses to your computer, or steal your passwords and personal information.

The Department of Agriculture, your bank, and other official sources will never ask you to supply personal information in an email or text.