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The continued use of data has improved productivity, efficiency, and communication in all industries, and agriculture is no exception. In fact, technology has completely transformed agriculture over the past few decades, resulting in the development of smart agriculture and precision farming technologies.

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The agricultural and agribusiness sectors have therefore clearly benefited from the adoption of modern internet technology, enabling businesses to also improve their marketing, quality and inventory control, reduce administrative and accounting expenses, and automate certain functions and processes.

The threats of a changing landscape

Unfortunately, this progress also comes with certain disadvantages. The past year has seen a sharp increase in cyber activity and related crimes and this evolving threat can potentially affect enterprises, countries, and the public in general. As more devices are connected to networks and more tasks are automated, potential cyber risks will also grow exponentially over the next few years.

Some industries are only at the beginning of their cybersecurity journey. They are now where others were a few years ago when digitisation resulted in an increased exposure to cybersecurity risk.

“For a long time, agriculture was viewed as a low risk industry for potential cyberattacks. However, with the adoption of new technology and the increased use, collection, analysis, and storage of data, cybercrime is not only becoming a threat to producers, agribusiness and the industry, but also to the entire value chain,” warns Liza de Beer, product development manager at Old Mutual Insure.

Nowadays, almost every producer will utilise some form of basic technology to conduct business, for example, a smartphone or laptop. Consequently, simple security solutions such as the automatic updating of software, antivirus software, and multi-factor authentication are used.

“However, smart agriculture and sophisticated, digitally enabled businesses, such as intensive farming operations and automated farming systems, may require more complex security measures,” adds Liza.

With so much online activity, producers share the same risks as other industries, and sometimes even more. These threats on farms can be far-reaching and can span from personal privacy to sensitive information about the farm, intellectual property, skills and knowledge, and distribution.

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“There is no scaling down on smart agriculture, as producers need to increase production to help feed a growing local and global population. The increasing use of the internet, cloud technology, big data, and artificial intelligence to increase yields and sustainability, to name a few, also increases cybersecurity vulnerabilities,” explains Liza.

Know your cyber risks

“The first step in protecting data is knowing where it is, from emails and documents, process and sensor information, network storage and servers, to portable devices such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets.

“In smart agriculture or precision farming, it is crucial that the producer understands the path data travels throughout the entire supply chain, whether it involves sensors, GPS monitoring (with drones), automated machines, any agriculture process, or the distribution channel. Therefore, it is important that producers identify cyber vulnerabilities in their daily operations and processes, to understand their own cyber fragility and take action to remedy any weaknesses,” says Liza.

Farming enterprises cannot afford to operate without their computer systems for long. Employees can be just as susceptible and should continually be reminded of cyber risks and the impact it can have on them and on farming operations.

“Producers and those employed in agriculture should thus be mindful of the risks involved in online security and what they can do to keep themselves and their businesses safe as far as possible,” concludes Liza.

Visit our website at www.ominsure.co.za for information on our agricultural product solutions.

This article is intended to provide information, and not any advice. Old Mutual Insure Limited is a licensed FSP and non-life insurer.