Modern Farmer: Consultant Says Protecting Competitors’ Farm Data With Cybersecurity

Agricultural data is not just record keeping. This is confidential information that can be considered trade secrets.

Terry Griffin, agricultural data consultant and professor of spatial economics at Kansas State University, told Illinois Radio Network that farming methods and crop yields can be used by competitors and suppliers.

On-farm management best practices include cybersecurity to keep farm data confidential, Griffin said.

“If a data hacker recovers a farm’s hard drives, the farmer will pay dearly to get them back. Cybersecurity keeps agricultural data under the control of the farmer,” he said.

Griffin advises farmers to consider who has access to their agricultural information systems and how their agricultural data could be useful to competitors. Its list of potential data hackers includes employees, family members, landowners, neighboring farmers, agricultural retail service providers, US government and government entities, trade groups and environmental extremists. .

“It helps to think, OK, the data may not be useful to me right now, but it’s valuable because it’s not in someone else’s hands,” Griffin said.

Data has an impact on a farmer’s bargaining power. For this reason alone, farmers need to pay attention to cybersecurity.

In the corn belt, where there is fierce competition for fields to rent, information about a competitor’s farm can give one party an advantage.

“The last person farmers want access to their field data is a competing farmer,” Griffin said.

Some farmers tell Griffin they don’t want ag retailers and input manufacturers to know the specifics of their operations.

“They feel they will be disadvantaged if sellers know too much about their individual farm,” he said.

Data is not a tangible asset like a bushel of corn, but its value becomes more critical every year as technology and precision agriculture advance. Information disclosure and outright theft are dangers for farms.

Farmers should have quality computers with reliable backup systems and safe, reliable software, Griffin said.

On Kansas State University’s Ag Manager Info website, Griffin and his colleagues recommend best management practices for managing agricultural data.

The simple solution of changing the farm’s computer system password quarterly is a fundamental step, Griffin said.

“A lot of data collected by agricultural software doesn’t have the level of security password protection that most of us have with email,” Griffin said. “I would encourage people to think about it.”

Griffin recommends that farm employees sign nondisclosure agreements before they have access to farm data.

“Change the password immediately if an employee leaves to work for an agricultural retailer or another agricultural operation,” he said. “It’s common sense.”

Griffin writes articles and lectures on best management practices for farm cybersecurity. His social media handle is @spaceplowboy, a play on Griffin’s expertise in space statistics and his love for studying outer space.

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