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FBI: Cyberattacks target farmer co-ops during planting season. Here are tips to remain cyber secure

Ransomware actors may be more likely to attack agricultural cooperatives during critical planting and harvesting seasons. Here are some tips to avoid attacks.

MOLINE, Ill. — As the U.S. enters planting season, the FBI warned food and agricultural cooperatives that ransomware attacks may be more likely to occur during this critical time.

According to the FBI, cyberattacks during planting or harvesting seasons can disrupt operations that could later result in financial loss and negative impacts on the country's food supply chain.

New Cooperation, an association of Iowa corn and soy farmers, was forced to take its systems offline when faced with a ransomware attack by BlackMatter last fall just as Iowa's corn and soy harvesting season was getting underway, the Associated Press reported.

The Iowa co-op was able to "successfully contain" the attack by immediately notifying law enforcement, taking systems offline and creating workarounds to continue receiving grain and distributing feed, according to the Associated Press.

Mitigating threats, protecting systems

Because cyber threats continue to target network, system and application weaknesses within the food and agricultural sector, the FBI recommended farmer co-ops take the following precautions to mitigate threats and protect themselves in the event of a cyberattack:

  • Regularly back up data and password protect the backup copies.
  • Implement a data recovery plan that includes maintaining and keeping multiple copies of data and servers in a physically separate and secure location.
  • Identify critical functions and develop a plan to operate manually in the event systems go offline.
  • Install updates to systems, software and firmware as soon as they are released.
  • Use multifactor authentication whenever possible.
  • Use strong passwords and change them regularly. Avoid reusing those passwords for multiple accounts.
  • Disable unused remote access.
  • Require administrator credentials to install any software.
  • Audit user accounts with administrative privileges and configure access to those controls with the least privilege in mind.
  • Install and regularly update antivirus and antimalware software.
  • Only use secure networks and avoid using public Wi-Fi networks.
  • Consider installing and using a VPN.
  • Consider adding an email banner to emails coming from outside of your organization.
  • Disable hyperlinks in incoming emails.
  • Focus on cybersecurity awareness and training.

In the event of an attack

The FBI encouraged anyone who witnesses suspicious or criminal activity to your local FBI field office. Those in Iowa should contact the Omaha, Nebraska, office. Those in Central and Southern Illinois should contact the Springfield, Illinois, office.

To find your local FBI field office, click/tap here

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