Phishing is the most common way hackers gain access to sensitive information, an IT manager said
By Diego Flammini
The ag industry is not immune to cyberattacks.
In April, for example, cyberattacks shut down about 10 water controllers in agricultural areas in Israel.
And in February, hackers targeted Dole plc in a ransomware attack, forcing the company to halt production in North America.
With the planting season underway and farmers uploading, downloading and sharing data, Farms.com connected with an IT manager to discuss ways hackers access sensitive data, and how people can protect themselves.
The first thing to realize, says John So, IT manager with VL Interactive, is to understand that simply using the internet means there’s a data risk.
“Pretty much anything that’s connected to the internet is at risk of being hacked. This includes mobile phones,” he told Farms.com. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a small or large business, hackers just want to see how much they can exploit from you.”
The main way hackers gain access to sensitive data and information is through phishing attacks.
This is when a hacker sends emails and other materials trying to disguise themselves as being from a reputable organization.
This is done to encourage end users to enter passwords, credit card information and other data.
People who work in accounting, sales or have access to financial data are typically targeted in these kinds of attacks, So said.
“You could get an email saying your Microsoft account is out of date and you need to enter your information on the Microsoft site to keep your account active,” he said. “The site will look identical to Microsoft’s site but in reality the web address is to another site the hacker took control of. Once the hackers gain access, they can pretty much access anything they want.”
And a victim of a cyberattack may not know they’ve been hacked right away.
Hackers may take their time to collect as much data as possible, So said.
“They could sit in a network for weeks or months before they do anything malicious or ask for a ransom,” he said. “The first part for them is to try to sit there undetected.”
In some cases, hackers will take more subtle action.
Like changing banking information on an invoice to make sure they received a payment and not the intended recipient.
“These are things we’ve encountered before,” So said. “You’re talking five- or six-digit invoices. So then you have customers and clients emailing back and forth about a missing payments in the tens of thousands of dollars.”
There are multiple ways for users to protect themselves from cyberattacks.
Updated antivirus software is a good place to start, So said.
“A good antivirus program can pick up like 99 percent of the tools a hacker might use,” he said.”
Staying informed about how hackers are gaining access to sensitive data is also important.
Multiple resources are available, So said.
“There’s lots of guides, webinars and other materials that tell you what to look for when a hacker might be trying to get in,” he said. “I’d encourage anyone who’s concerned to seek out some of these resources.
Users may also consider hiring IT companies or cybersecurity consultants, So added.
People with data they want to remain protected should take steps to ensure that information is backed up, should a breach occur.
Cloud backups are the safest, So said.
“It’s rare for one of the cloud providers to have a failure where they’ll lose all of your backup data,” he said. “And make sure your storage account is protected by multi-factor authentication.”
External hard drives and USB storage devices are okay as well, but they don’t last forever.
“Everything will degrade over time,” So said. “Nothing is ever 100 per cent, it’s more about having multiple layers of protection.”
Visit VLinteractive.com to learn more about professional managed IT services that can help protect your agribusiness from cyberattacks and other digital security threats.