New guidance is being issued to farmers to help them protect themselves from cyber attacks such as spoof adverts, scam emails and malicious software.
Put together by the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the online document aims to provide farmers with the tools they need to protect themselves from the most common cyber attacks
According to Defra Aggregate agricultural accounts, the total income for farming in the South West region between 2014-2018 was a staggering £4,054,000. With income being so high, the farming and agricultural sector is of growing interest to cyber criminals.
Attacks on the rise
Official statistics show a rise in reports of cyber attacks against the farming community, such as spoof farm machinery adverts that can leave farmers thousands of pounds out of pocket.
For example, in 2019 more than 60% of agricultural businesses reported one or more attacks, compared with 45% in 2018, according to one cyber security company.
A recent attack saw a farmer fall victim to an elaborate telephone scam, which saw his bank account stripped of a five-figure sum. The call purported to come from the member’s bank. The most worrying aspect of this incident was that the scammer had manipulated the caller ID displaying on the receiving phone to make it look like the call was coming from the bank. The scammer called seeking confirmation from our member that a large payment being made electronically to HMRC was genuine. It obviously wasn't a genuine payment and the fraudster then offered to help stop the payment going through. The scammer went on to use the information he had gleaned during the call to move significant funds out of our member’s account.
Farming and technology
Whether it’s using livestock tags to monitor the welfare of your animals or drones to survey the health of your crops, the increased use of technology and farm management systems can help farmers increase productivity and reduce labour numbers and costs. Alongside the many advantages and efficiencies of embracing technology, it can also bring with it challenges. Like all businesses, farms hold employee, supplier and customer data that can be targeted, so systems need to be secure.
In the guidance, NFU Deputy President, Stuart Roberts said: “Cyber attacks can be devastating for businesses and the individuals who are victims to fraudulent activity. “It can affect agricultural businesses in a number of ways, including leaking of confidential data or financial losses. “As farms rely more on technologies such as GPS, remote sensing and unmanned vehicles, the risks increase. With cyber criminals becoming increasingly sophisticated and finding new ways to steal passwords, money or data, farmers need to be aware of the risks and invest in cyber security."
The new guidance
The new NFU/NCSC guidance identifies the main digital aspects that are at threat on farms from the computers farmers use to send their emails and run their farm management software, to their automated machinery, security cameras and smartphones.
“You must also consider all the online accounts that you use,” it advises. “This means banking, email and social media, but also things like the Rural Payments service, HMRC online services, online shopping and cloud document storage.”
Top tips for improved cyber security
• Ensure computers and mobile phones are set to install automatic updates
• Replace old hardware, which may be more vulnerable to attack
• Back up your data – perhaps on an external hard drive or USB stick or a cloud-based option
• Switch on password protection and use fingerprint or face ID on mobile devices
• Use things like tracking modes and remote data erasing modes on mobile devices
• Download anti-virus products to protect from “malware” (malicious software)
• Activate firewalls to create a buffer between your network and the internet
The guidance also offers advice on password creation, spotting and dealing with scam emails, texts and phone calls, and details of where to go for help.