As the agricultural sector continues to embrace digital technologies, UK farmers must proactively address cyber risks. As well as guarding their fields against various risks, from insects and poachers to climate change-related weather conditions, farmers now face threats from cybercriminals.
And the threat is a serious one. 32% of UK businesses identified a cyberattack over twelve months, according to The Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2023.1
A report by the University of Cambridge warns about the future use of artificial intelligence (AI) in agriculture. It comes with substantial potential risks that farmers need a better understanding and appreciation for.2
Implementing robust cybersecurity measures, fostering a culture of awareness and vigilance, and staying informed about emerging threats are essential steps to safeguarding the future of farming operations. By recognising the unique challenges and adapting to the changing cyber landscape, you can ensure that technology remains a tool for growth rather than a source of vulnerability.
Common cyber threats to farmers
Here, we look at common types of cyberattacks, how to reduce the risks, and why insurance is so important.
The Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2023 looked at the types of breaches and attacks organisations report, the most common one is phishing.1 Criminals can trick you into sharing information and data such as passwords or bank details.
- Hacking - Farms of all sizes can have their computer systems and smart machinery hacked. Criminals can use agricultural AI to disrupt farms by shutting down sprayers, autonomous drones, or robotic harvesters.2
- Malicious software - Malware is typically designed to steal or extort money from you, often by holding your data to ransom. Any device connected to the internet is at risk from malware. Criminals could shut your farm down and hold farmers to ransom.
While AI can help make farms more efficient and productive, it also leaves farmers and their machinery vulnerable to hackers. Hackers can exploit flaws in hardware, leaving the global food supply chains exposed to risk.
Deepfakes use a form of AI to create convincing fake images, videos, and audio, allowing criminals to mislead, steal identities, and ruin reputations, all for financial gain.3 By pretending to be a customer or a legitimate company, cybercriminals can imitate you to your customers or employees. Or impersonate your boss, requesting that you transfer money to a supplier.
Cybersecurity measures for farmers
To safeguard your farming operations from cyber threats, consider the following cybersecurity measures:
- Regular updates: Keep software and systems up to date and back up data regularly. Store backups separately from your main systems to prevent data loss in case of an attack.
- Antivirus software: Employ reputable antivirus software to defend against viruses, spyware, malware, and ransomware.
- Strong passwords: Use strong and unique passwords. Avoid using pets' names and places of birth. Criminals can easily find this information on your social media accounts. Do not store passwords with your device.
- Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Enable 2FA whenever possible to add an extra layer of security to your accounts.4
- Employee training: Educate all staff members about identifying suspicious messages, deepfakes, and cybersecurity best practices.3 Encourage them to report any suspicious communications.
- Privacy Protection: Never give out private information such as passwords or bank details. Don't reply to scam texts or click on email links that may not be genuine.5
Reporting and assistance if you suspect fraud
- Report suspicious emails to NCSC's Suspicious Email Reporting Service, SERS, at firstname.lastname@example.org or forward texts to 7726 (free of charge).
- Contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or visit www.actionfraud.police.uk.
- The Rural Payments Agency offers guidance for anyone worried about fraud related to your Rural Payment. Go to www.gov.uk/guidance/rpa-fraud-information.
- Stay informed about cybersecurity by visiting resources like Cyber Aware, Get Safe Online or the National Cyber Security Centre.
Cyberattacks are on the rise.6 They can be financially devastating, disrupting and upsetting to both individuals and businesses—the agricultural sector is no exception.
Cyber insurance for added protection
A cyber insurance policy, also known as cybersecurity or cyber liability insurance, helps your business to recover losses and associated costs resulting from large-scale breaches, business interruption, ransomware and other types of cyberattacks.
We can help arrange cyber liability insurance.
Farmers must prioritise cybersecurity to protect their operations from cyber threats as the agricultural sector embraces digital transformation. By implementing robust security measures, fostering awareness among staff, and staying informed about emerging threats, farmers can ensure that technology remains a valuable tool for growth rather than a source of vulnerability.
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