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October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, a good time to remind farmers of the importance of securing their valuable farm data.

Most of today’s large row crop farmers and small grain producers have integrated precision agriculture tools into their operations, creating new efficiencies and changing how they raise their crops. That widespread adoption yields a continuously growing collection of data and information that helps new generations of technology perform even better on the farm. But there’s also a proverbial snake in the grass when it comes to the security of that high-value farm-level data and information.

Today’s precision ag technology creates vulnerabilities and can put high-value farm data at risk from theft or illicit use. It’s a call for farmers to prioritize cybersecurity on their operations to preserve their data and ensure it’s only used for its intended purposes.

Recognize your data’s value

Given that growth and the increasing hardware and cloud-based systems and platforms farmers use for things like GPS guidance, soil sampling, remote sensing and unmanned or autonomous field operations, the overall vulnerability to cyberattacks is on the rise. The good news is, on the other hand, cybersecurity capabilities continue to advance. Protecting your data today is a matter of first recognizing its value, then work in secure hardware and systems, treating it just like you would any other critically important information on your operation.

There’s a value exchange in using any digital platform. When free services are offered to users, whether ag-specific or not, they typically come with a caveat. Google is one example; when using its free services like Gmail, users grant the company permission to use that data, albeit anonymized, in different ways. The free version may mean your email data is used to enable partner companies to target ads based on interests expressed in your messages. The paid version of G Suite, on the other hand, can cost as little as $5/month, but that paid subscription includes stronger security and data protection protocols. It’s a value exchange that’s become common among most all popular digital services and platforms, whether inside or out of agriculture.

Work with secure tech partners

Start the process of securing your farm’s precision ag data by a look at the technology you use and its providers. Cybersecurity has become a key component of the industry, with many companies investing considerably in maintaining the highest levels of customer data security. Ask questions of your machinery and precision ag partners to confirm the security of your data on their platforms, whether it’s stored in the cloud or on physical servers.

While you may have a smaller direct role in data management than your precision ag and machinery partners, there are vulnerabilities to which you can be attentive in maintaining a high level of cybersecurity at the farm level, especially when it comes to your workforce and on-site computer and networking hardware.

Steps you can take on your farm

According to a report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), ag producers can take a few steps to shore up potential vulnerabilities in data security:

  • • Be proactive and actively manage data. Your data is only as safe as you treat it. Just like you lock your car or truck or use a personal identification number (PIN) with your debit card, your proactive action will dictate the security of your data. Be accountable for the steps you can take, like performing recommended software updates, frequently changing account passwords and regularly checking application and platform security settings to ensure you’re equipping yourself with the latest security tools.
  • Choose the right platforms. Regardless of the type and volume of data you’re collecting and storing, there are likely a lot of options. It can be a time-consuming job to learn your options for managing your farm’s data, but it’s well worth it in the long run. Account for things like your overall comfort level with each platform’s features and security protocols. Paying even a small monthly fee often nets stronger security settings. The right decision depends on the balance between expense and data security expectations.
  • Store your data right. If you have a high volume of valuable data ranging from agronomics to marketing and risk management, where and how you store it is important to its security from potential cyberattacks. If stored in the cloud, make sure the platform has adequate security protocols. If doing so locally, it’s a good idea to use a server or storage device with adequate firewalls in place that’s not connected to the internet.
  • Involve your whole team. Creating processes to manage the increasing volume of data gleaned by today’s precision ag tools — and staying up-to-date with the latest and most effective data security tools and platforms — is not easy for everyone. Given the challenge and diversity of experience and knowledge levels of farmers, ranchers and agribusiness managers, it’s a good idea to meet with employees and other farm stakeholders regularly to ensure everyone involved understands the work and has the education necessary to keeping data secure.

Get the right cyber liability insurance

An important step not to be overlooked is to consult with a trusted advisor to ensure you have right cyber liability coverage for your farm should a cyber theft or data compromise occur. Cybercrime and identity left can be complicated and costly. Cyber liability coverage from Nationwide can help offset the devasting effects hacking, data theft and identity fraud can have on your business from a financial and reputation standpoint.

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Federal income tax laws are complex and subject to change. Neither Nationwide nor its representatives give legal or tax advice. Please consult your attorney or tax advisor for answers to specific questions.

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