Editorial: Do you know your cybersecurity risk? – Manitobe Co-Operator

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Farms and agricultural businesses are in danger, and most don’t know the extent of their problem.


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More data on the farm also means more digital vulnerabilities.More data on the farm also means more digital vulnerabilities.

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As reporter Janelle Rudolph notes in our front-page story in the May 30 issue of the Co-operator, Canadian producers, agribusinesses and farm groups have all felt the sting of a cyberattack within the past few years.

Technology and digital agriculture can reshape the industry. Farming has never been more data-rich and farmers have never had greater capacity to understand their farm on a granular level and shift operations accordingly.

But every advancement has a downside, and adopting innovation is not only about maximizing the benefits. It’s also about guarding against the dangers.

Greater cyber vulnerability is part of the price we pay for technological sophistication. Knowing how to guard against it becomes more important as farmers or agribusinesses invest in new technology.

Ensuring the defences match the rate of technological advancement has been a struggle for every industry, including agriculture, as hackers and scammers get smarter. Most of us — farmer, business owner or member of the public — have no idea who all has our data or where our data is housed, making it difficult to protect.

In March, the University of Winnipeg announced its systems had been breached. Years worth of personal information, including social insurance numbers of students, staff and graduates, was compromised. I’m sure many victims of that breach didn’t think a university they attended a decade ago was a big cybersecurity threat for them.

Artificial intelligence will make it harder to keep pace. Technology always moves quickly. With AI, it’s going to move at light speed.


AI is a double-edged knife for the cybersecurity world, as investment banking firm Morgan Stanley highlighted in a 2023 article posted to its website. Hackers and the experts trying to foil hackers are all using it.

For the good guys, AI’s abilities at large-scale data crunching and pattern recognition make it better able to identify attacks, flag phishing emails, mimic social engineering attacks, “which help security teams spot potential vulnerabilities before cybercriminals exploit them,” and help cybersecurity teams react more quickly to an issue. It allows malware to be more quickly contained, limiting damage, the article noted.

“Additionally, AI has the potential to be a game-changing tool in penetration testing — intentionally probing the defenses of software and networks to identify weaknesses.”

That same computing power can turn cybersecurity cracks into gaping holes. Hackers and scammers are using AI to improve their algorithms for guessing passwords, poison data used by the target system’s own AI and make more convincing scam messages, the article warned.

Last year, reports spread about grandparent scams, in which scammers used AI to clone the voice of a loved one to entice money out of victims.

Earlier this year, I argued that capturing the substantial promise of AI to agriculture would require “more technical know-how to match the more technical tools.”

The same goes for cybersecurity.


As Rudolph notes, farmers are well versed in the tools, programs and practices they need to manage every other risk they encounter on the farm. It’s time to add digital risk management to the list.

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