A large part of dairy farming is recordkeeping. Reproduction dates, feed rations, production records, employee timecards, financial information, equipment information and more are things stored either physically or digitally somewhere on your farm. What are you doing to protect it?

Today’s scammers have evolved from the old “Persian prince needs money wired to him” scheme that perhaps your grandma fell for. Cybersecurity might not be at the top of the long list of priorities on a dairy farmer’s plate, but it should be something to think about.

What is cybersecurity?

In short, cybersecurity is protection against any criminalized activity regarding electronic data. Potential threats include malware – a type of software installed with intent to steal or destroy sensitive information, ransomware – obtaining sensitive information through hacking and holding information until a ransom is paid, phishing – a type of scam in which emails are sent that seem to be from a legitimate source but in fact are scammers seeking sensitive information, and distributed denial of service (DDoS) – an attack on a server or network that prevents users from accessing it. Phishing is quickly becoming one of the most common forms of cyber threats, as it is easy for hackers to acquire an email and forge documents that appear legitimate – tricking victims into giving up sensitive information.

Why do I need it?

Let’s face it, the convenience of online shopping, bill pay and banking has us memorizing our credit card numbers for quick input. Most of us are suckers for a good deal and have experimented with buying cheap things from questionable sites. Not that there’s anything wrong with finding a good deal, but is it worth risking your sensitive information? Cybersecurity doesn’t just apply to your finances; it’s also important to protect your identity and any other information about you that might be accessible online. It’s also something to keep in mind when thinking about your dairy.

What measures should I take?

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency suggests implementing these few tips to ensure safety online:

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  • Recognize potential risks Knowing what you are up against is the best way to protect yourself from any security breaches. Can you imagine functioning for one day without your herd records? Do your homework and recognize risks on your dairy that could expose you to malware, ransomware and phishing.
  • Keep software up to date Old software can create space for hackers to take advantage of vulnerabilities in your system. That computer that sits in your office and does nothing but collect dust because you got a newer one for Christmas – how much of your dairy’s data/financial/personal information is on there? Consider updating some of the software to ensure you’re keeping cyberattacks out.
  • Run current antivirus software This is an important protection against malware, especially from a business standpoint. Your dairy has important data, necessary to the function of your business. Running software that is actively trying to keep out unwanted viruses can ensure the safety of your records.
  • Use strong passwords – This should be a given, but 1234 is not the strongest password in the world. Neither is your birthday, anniversary, kids’ birthdays or any significant dates in your life. The more complicated the password is, the better protected you are.
  • Change default usernames and passwords – Default information is easily accessed by hackers. Personalize your profiles and again, use a strong password.
  • Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) – MFA requires multiple steps to authenticate the user’s identity, making it less accessible to a hacker. For example, your bank might require MFA for large transactions. When you swipe your card to buy a new flatscreen TV, you might get a text or alert from your bank asking for a verification that it is indeed you trying to make this purchase.
  • Install a firewall – Firewalls can protect you from suspicious internet behavior. This should be something implemented on any dairy farm computers that contain sensitive data. Firewalls can be physical hardware or software installed on your device. This is something you can tackle yourself, or you could recruit your tech-savvy nephew or ask your internet provider.
  • Be suspicious of unexpected emails – This is where those phishing scams come in. If something feels off about the email, (different type of branding, weirdly personal, email sent before or after business hours) do not click any links or fill out any information in the email.

What can I do as an employer?

Be sure to enforce guidelines that keep you, your company and your employees safe. A community computer can be a useful tool that contains hundreds of records and reports that are critical to the function of your dairy but should come with some boundaries. If an employee is checking personal email on this computer and accidentally allows the device to be compromised by a phishing scam, malware or ransomware attack, it could be devastating to your business. Do not allow employees to use your farm’s main data computer for personal use.

As an employer, it’s important to set clear standards when it comes to using technology on your farm. Consider implementing a policy that prohibits employees from using the work email for any personal use, like checking emails or browsing through social media. Be sure to clearly communicate the measures you are taking to ensure cybersecurity on your operation with each member of your team. Implement the tips listed above to ensure safety in your business.

What are companies that have my information doing to protect it?

JBS, the world’s largest beef supplier, paid $11 million in ransom to recover information seized by hackers. On June 1, 2021, the company shut down nine of its beef plants for 24 hours, leaving cattle in holding yards across the nation. REvil, a hacker group based out of Russia, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Though this did not directly affect the dairy industry, it’s not impossible for something like this to happen a little closer to home. Not only are you storing data on your dairy, but your information is also being stored elsewhere, like in dairy record processing centers. These organizations exist across the country in some form or another and are doing their part to ensure your information remains secure.

“We take great precautions on our side to protect data for our customers,” says Ladd Muirbrook, Amelicor senior account executive. “We have a secure server room that is climate controlled and monitored 24-7. We have security protocols in place that are very stringent that we all adhere to. When customers send us data, it’s a very secure data upload. We have proprietary software that we monitor extremely closely to make sure that there is no outside attack or outside interruption of data that’s being sent to us.”

Think about the other companies you work with, what are they doing to keep your information safe? It’s perfectly OK to ask field reps to explain what measures their companies take to secure your information. You’ll likely stump them with the question the first time, but it’s OK to ask them to do some homework and return with an answer.

“Information security is an utmost priority of DeLaval and something we work with on a daily basis,” DeLaval North America said in a statement. “Among many things, it is about following our set of internal procedures for handling information. The tools and platforms we use at DeLaval are configured according to the best security practices. Our employees also play a critical role in helping us maintain integrity and confidentiality for our data, which is why we have enterprise-wide security-awareness trainings to help them avoid or identify potential security threats.”

Cybersecurity is not something to overlook or to take lightly in your personal or dairy farm life.  end mark

Matti Leak