C magazine

How safe is your data?

Cybersecurity graphic

Feb 26, 2020

One bad click might be one click too late to protect your data. 

Customer digital footprints are a hot commodity in today’s plugged-in world, especially in agriculture, where personal and farm data are used to make daily decisions.

At companies that sell inputs and buy commodities, data security professionals work tirelessly behind the scenes to protect data. 

“We want to worry so much about the data security of our members and customers that they don’t have to worry,” says Beth Singer, director of information technology compliance with CHS. 

Even with the experts watching out for farm data, the first line of defense in data protection begins with individuals, says Singer. The same strategies CHS and other companies use to protect data and privacy can be applied to personal and farm accounts. Here are a few tips you can apply to your own digital footprint. 

Learn Your Data

Your personally identifiable information is highly valued by both companies and hackers. That personal information is tied to invoices, orders, grain contracts, patronage forms and farm management plans. Hackers and scammers collect sensitive data to open up fake accounts, gain access to existing accounts or steal money. Be aware of where and when you give out data. Limiting how often and where you share data will lower your risk of stolen data. 

Personally identifiable information graphic

“Notice what data you give out, especially electronically, and question why sensitive data is needed,” says Singer. “Ask, ‘What are you doing to take care of my data?’

“The more we talk about data privacy, the more we can put plans in place to protect that data,” she adds.


Own Data Protection

“Cybersecurity should be everyone’s concern every day,” says Aaron De Boer, CHS cybersecurity manager. “Over the past 10 years, the frequency of hacking, malware and social engineering incidents has grown dramatically. The landscape, with more and more network-connected devices like TVs, cars and refrigerators, has increased and attackers’ methods and techniques have evolved.” 

Phishing, spear phishing, malware and ransomware are all used by hackers to grab your digital data.

The FBI calls ransomware attacks a top cybersecurity threat. Resolving an attack can cost $500 to $2,500 or more.

A practice where scammers use deceptive emails to trick people into helping the scammer collect sensitive data, gain access to accounts or steal money.

Spear phishing
The practice of sending emails that appear to come from a known or trusted source with the intent to get people to reveal confidential information. 

Software designed to disrupt, damage or gain unauthorized access to computer or mobile device systems. 

Malware that holds data hostage by blocking access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid

Practice Healthy Data Habits

Be aware of every download to your computer, smartphone or other electronic devices. Once your computer or mobile device has downloaded something harmful, it is often too late to protect the data it holds. Evaluate every download request before you click or tap.

Install all operating system and software updates. “If your software has not been updated recently, it is vulnerable,” De Boer says. “And those vulnerabilities are a prime target for hackers who want access to your systems and devices through the web.” 

"The more we talk about data privacy, the more we can put plans in place to protect that data." 
— Beth Singer

Don’t go to risky websites. If a browser notifies you that a website is unsafe, don’t proceed to that website. If the site appears to belong to a company you do business with, contact it by phone or email to find out if it is having website issues.

Protect Passwords

Have a password strategy. Using “Password1234” is inviting hackers to tap into your accounts and steal data. Tracking passwords on paper might seem old school, but is still a good option, says De Boer, and one still used by many government agencies. Changing from a short password to a longer pass phrase of 15 characters or more with special characters and numbers is also a good idea.

“There are also many password management programs that work very well,” De Boer says.

Be sure to change any default passwords that come with devices and software. “Those default passwords are on the Internet and are known to everyone,” De Boer says.

Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA), which is becoming much more common and is another way to make it harder for someone to hack into your accounts. It usually requires a two-step process to log into programs by requiring the user to enter a verification code provided through email or text message. MFA is usually an opt-in process.

Make Data Privacy a Priority

  • Check your privacy settings.
  • Share your data with care. 
  • Question who has your data and how they handle it.
  • Tell companies your data privacy is important.
  • Talk to your family about data privacy.
  • Protect sensitive data  sent electronically with encryption and other tools.
  • Don’t share personal information over social media.
  • Don’t connect to unknown wireless networks or devices.

Be Suspicious

Don’t click on suspicious links. On a computer, hover the mouse over a link and the web address will pop up; on a smartphone, hold on the link to see the address. If the address doesn't match the website the link indicates, it might be a fake link created by a data thief.

Never enter your login credentials through a link in an email. Instead, go directly to the website through a known bookmark to verify the communication or notification is legitimate.

If you get a suspicious email from someone you know, focus on sender details, context and content. Would this person normally send you a request for this type of information? If you’re not sure, call that person to make sure he or she is truly requesting the information.

“That one simple action is an easy way to thwart bank or billing fraud,” De Boer says.

While smartphones can fit in our pockets, they carry as much computing power and data as some laptop computers. With that much data on the move, data protection is critical. Educating yourself on the risks and taking a few simple steps will go far in protecting your valuable data.