Protecting on-farm data is more important than ever. Recent examples of cyberattacks are vivid reminders that insecure data equals real risk, even for farmers.
Follow these tips to ensure your data is protected against ransomware, viruses and other types of malicious software that can infect devices.
1. Install antivirus software, and set it to automatically update. Companies that produce antivirus software constantly monitor attacks to keep track of new viruses and build updates to protect against them, says Sam Boyster, director of information technology for University of Arkansas Extension. Updating antivirus software regularly is vital to keep computers safe.
2. Run the latest versions of all software programs, and update them as patches are made available. Install monthly patches on other software to keep viruses out of your computer system.
“When those monthly patches come out from Microsoft, you really want to go ahead and install those,” Boyster says. “Many times, those are due to security issues, as well as bug fixes and enhancements.”
3. Avoid opening suspicious-looking emails, and never click on the links they contain. Spam emails can easily sneak into your inbox carrying malware. They might claim to be from your bank, a favorite website or a friend whose account has been compromised. The emails often provide scarce information with a URL or an attachment. If you click the link or open the attachment, you could open the door for malware to infect your computer.
“Never, ever open a suspicious-looking email,” says Paul Neiffer, CPA and principal at CliftonLarsonAllen and a Top Producer columnist. “It’s better to just delete them. People will get back to you if it’s a real email.”
4. Back up data remotely to preserve a copy of it. By creating a digital copy of data, you not only protect it against malware but also against physical theft, drive failures and natural disasters. Online programs such as Carbonite and Crashplan will back up your PC to a remote location in the cloud. Those systems are constantly being backed up, which provides an added level of protection.
“If you have a backup of your data that is stored off-site, then you have the ability to go back and restore to a previous version, to recover to a previous state before the ransomware attacks hit,” Boyster says.
5. Use strong and unique passwords, and change them often. It’s tempting to use the same password across multiple accounts. But to keep personal and business information secure, you should vary passwords and change them periodically. Don’t write down your passwords in easily accessible areas, and never use simple passwords such as “password,” Neiffer says.
“To be safe anymore, you almost need to make sure your passwords are at least 10 or 12 digits long, have at least one capitalized [letter], one lowercase, one number and one special character,” Neiffer says.
Yet strong passwords by themselves are not enough. Keep in mind certain types of malware can steal passwords if they manage to enter your computer system, Neiffer points out.