November 29, 2021

Volume XI, Number 333

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Ripe for the Picking: Hackers Target Agribusinesses

Agribusiness may not be an industry that the public at large often associates with data breaches and hacking, but whatever the perception may be, the agricultural sector of the American economy is increasingly a ripe target for malicious foreign actors, digital fraud, and other perpetrators of cybercrime.

These threats will only increase as Precision Agriculture—the greater incorporation of digital and satellite systems into agricultural production—and software based on machine learning take greater prominence in the agricultural sector.

According to the Ponemon Institute's survey of data breaches in 2020, the average all-in cost of a data breach globally was $3,860,000, but in the United States the number was much higher at $8,640,000, making American businesses—by far—the most aggrieved group from a data breach perspective. There was about a 5.5% increase in the average cost compared to last year, so this problem is unlikely to do anything but worsen in the years to come. Legal costs alone average hundreds of thousands of dollars, and attorneys' fees will only be a piece of that figure.

As a Department of Homeland Security report on Threats to Precision Agriculture notes, "data theft, stealing resources, reputation loss, destruction of equipment, or gaining an improper financial advantage over a competitor," are all threats that the American agricultural industry will continue to face in a digitizing world. And indeed, wire fraud, stealing financial credentials and stealing competitors' intellectual property are all significant concerns for Agribusiness today.

However, the same report by the Ponemon Institute that found such high costs associated with data breaches also found that some basic steps implemented before a breach occurs will—on average—reduce the cost of a data breach drastically, and—perhaps surprisingly—few of the most important steps need to involve large investments in high-tech systems. Rather those steps often principally involve planning and getting the right training to the people who make up an organization.

First, having an incident response plan and testing it will, on average, reduce a data breach's cost by about 15%. A business continuity plan will reduce the average cost by 7.22%. And employee training will reduce the average cost by about 6.17%, which is more than the 6.14% that extensive encryption will save. By contrast, migrating information to the cloud without proper insurance and contractual protections will increase the average cost by more than 7.5%. Compliance failures will—on average—increase costs by 6.6%, and interconnected devices (sometimes called the internet of things) which are powering advances in agricultural technologies can increase the average cost of a data breach by over 5%. These percentages in the abstract may seem small until we remember that they are being applied to a typical breach, with costs that reach several million dollars.

Technology has always driven the American agricultural sector forward, and it will continue to do so for years to come. But the increasing digitization of the agricultural workspace and the implementation of new agricultural technologies open a business up to enormous losses if they do not plan ahead for the future. 

© 2021 Ward and Smith, P.A.. All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume XI, Number 120
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About this Author

Peter N. McClelland Cybersecurity Attorney Ward and Smith
Attorney

Peter is an attorney and a Certified Information Privacy Professional/US (CIPP/US) who assists clients in a range of privacy, data security, cyber supply chain and technology matters.

He regularly counsels on the legal requirements and risks associated with the collection, storage, transfer, use, protection, and disposal of data. Businesses and individuals rely on his privacy and data security expertise for structuring and operationalizing privacy compliance programs, data breach response and planning, contract and vendor management, and...

919-277-9157
Allen N. Trask III, Litigation Attorney, Ward Smith, Wilmington, North Carolina, business, civil, commercial litigation
Litigation Attorney

Allen focuses his practice on assisting those who own, manage, and invest in real estate and common interest communities.  He regularly works with real estate developers and the residential and commercial community associations that they create to handle all manner of issues, including the preparation, amendment, interpretation, and enforcement of restrictive covenants and governing corporate documents, declarant control transition and disputes, community management, insurance claims and disputes, and collections.  He also frequently represents Real Estate Investment...

910-794-4804
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