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June 5, 2014
Data Insecurity Hits Close to Home
Jack Zemlicka, Technology Editor
When it comes to online passwords, I’ve always tried to pick memorably unique words that have a personal meaning. Not that I feel any more insulated choosing some obscure, three-syllable adverb (which I haven’t) because it seems that not a day goes by where I’m not asked to change my login because of a potential security threat.
Up until now, it’s been primarily consumer giants including Target, eBay and Neiman Marcus that have made headlines after having their systems hacked. But the problem has spread into the ag industry with the recent news that personal information of Precision Planting customers and employees may have been exposed after a cyber attack in March.
In a notification letter sent by the company, Precision Planting commercial lead John Larkin said he didn’t believe the attack was an attempt to steal customer data, but that personal information, such as names, addresses, tax identification numbers and possibly financial account information of individuals could have been exposed.
Larkin also said in the letter that the breach didn’t affect any farm data that customers may have submitted to Precision Planting, which is a subsidiary of Monsanto.
This is poorly timed news given that these companies and others are championing platforms which offer prescriptive planting services in exchange for access to farmers’ field data. There was already a fair amount of concern among farmers over privacy and security of the information being shared in these programs and who would have access to it.
But if the hackers weren’t targeting customer information, as Larkin stated, what was the objective of the attack?
“The technology isn’t something a hacker in China or Eastern Europe would have a use for unless they could sell it to a competitor in the ag market,” says one precision dealer in Montana.
While the motive is investigated, Precision Planting is offering a complimentary 1-year subscription to an identity theft protection service, so customers and employees can detect any misuse of personal information.
Regardless of the back-end protection and ongoing damage control, there is clear uneasiness as to what ramifications this situation could have on the industry going forward. One precision dealer in Missouri received his notification letter with information on how to sign up for the identity protection service. His reaction?
“Maybe that protection should be included with being a dealer,” he says. “Because this situation doesn't give me warm fuzzies.”