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Agri-farming industry urged to fight against latest cybercrime trend

With the world’s largest meat processor JBS recently sustaining a devastating cyber-attack which cost the business close to £8m, the current threat of cybercrime to the agri-farming industry has never been more topical.

Cyber Security and Digital Data Protection Concept. Icon graphic interface showing secure firewall technology for online data access defense against hacker, virus and insecure information for privacy. SWCRC.

As the South West Cyber Resilience Centre (SWCRC) points out, cyber-crime can happen to any size farm at any time if preventative steps aren’t taken. Farmers Guide reported on the government’s national cyber security advice to farmers, which you can read here. 

The National Cyber Security Centre CEO, Lindy Cameron, also delivered a stark warning that ransomware is the number one threat in the UK, but there are concerns that the farming community in the South West may not recognise that they are a target for cyber criminals or know how to make their businesses more cyber secure.

The SWCRC is a police-led partnership which helps business owners and leaders across all sectors in Avon, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, Dorset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire to understand the purpose of cyber safeguarding and implementing best practice measures.

It is raising awareness of the common misconception that cybercrime only affects large, established businesses – this view plays into the hands of cyber criminals.

The director of the Cyber Resilience Centre for South West, superintendent Mark Moore, said: “It’s very easy to pinpoint which businesses in the region are at risk of cyber threats by using the most basic level of intel,” he explains. “If email, a telephone system, or a wi-fi connection is being used for example, then the answer is simply, ‘yes it can happen’.

“Today, the agricultural and farming industries are experiencing a digitalisation boom, with a host of cutting-edge management tools, automated equipment featuring GPS tracking and innovative heat pump technologies operated through cloud-based systems,” Mark says.

“A government report states that UK sales of new farming equipment is £1.9bn annually. This presents plenty of great material for a hacker to work with, as all they need is to identify a vulnerability in the set-up or a lack of simple maintenance of such products to strike.”

While the ransomware attack on JBS demonstrates the extreme of what can happen to a global operator, it is also important to note that many victims of cybercrime are often local, small-to-medium-sized businesses that are uninformed of connectivity pitfalls. According to the Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2021, a successful violation costs more than £8,000 of damage on average to small businesses.

A ransomware attack is when a user or entire business can no longer access the system and files they need to run their business. To get the access back, the attacker will often demand a ransom payment and if a business fails to pay up, the data will be stolen and/or deleted.

Figures from Action Fraud’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) state almost 190 extortion threats were reported in the South West of England between 1st June 2020 and 1st June 2021, with losses of more than £353k. However, it is widely reported that a considerable number of breaches and threats go unreported due to a lack of knowledge in where and how to report the issue.

Mark continued: “While we appreciate this is unnerving, the reality is that smaller-scale producers are unlikely to survive an attack and for bigger operators with complex supply chains, the fallout and reputational damage will be an overwhelming situation to come back from.

“However, there are straightforward measures for farm owners and decision-makers to get basic cyber security in place. The SWCRC is the ideal solution for the time-poor, those who are completely new to the concept, right through to people with good knowledge that want to improve their knowledge using simple yet effective tools.”

Mark added: “We look forward to welcoming more people from the agri-farming community to the SWCRC and helping them safeguard their businesses against ongoing threats.”

Regional policy manager at the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) in the South West, Alex Stevens, commented: “Cybercrime is a current and increasing threat to family farms and the supply chains that they are part of, and we strongly encourage growers, producers and farmers operating business of all sizes to take into serious consideration what plans they have in place to mitigate the risks.

“Every day, huge amounts of business-critical data is passing through networks to supply chains and customer connections but should this be intercepted, it could potentially bring down a business in a matter of moments.

“Education is the key to being cyber resilient and the acceleration of this is much needed across such a multi-generational industry. Thankfully with organisations like the SWCRC, we can continue raising our own awareness and filtering the message through to the wider agri-farming community.”

The SWCRC is a police-led, not-for-profit organisation which helps small- and medium-sized businesses build and improve cyber resilience maturity, with accessible support and guidance available through its free core membership packages.

Businesses can find out more information about the centre and how to get involved: To keep updated with all the latest SWCRC developments, follow @soutwestcrc on Twitter and LinkedIn or join for free core membership.

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