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Private networks: Protect your farm’s IT system from hackers

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Spitfire have provided telecoms and IP engineering solutions to business since 1988. Spitfire Unified Network enables quick and easy deployment of secure IoT networks for mobile, fixed line and cloud.

Until fairly recently, it was a relatively straightforward challenge to keep a farm secure.

Generally, farmers relied on physical barriers and isolated systems, and traditional methods, such as fencing, locked gates, and the use of basic alarms, were the norm.

Security cameras, if used, were often simple CCTVs connected by coaxial cables, with recordings stored on tapes requiring physical retrieval.

These systems, disconnected from the internet, were immune to remote hacking, required no firmware updates, and had no digital vulnerabilities. Alarm systems were triggered by opening windows or doors.

Today’s agricultural operations have evolved dramatically. Modern farms rely on IP-based security systems, integrated and interconnected, capable of remote management and often reliant on the internet.

This provides necessary flexibility and scalability, but also introduces new vulnerabilities.

How today’s security systems function on farms

The shift to IP-based systems has transformed how farmers monitor, control, and secure their operations.

This transformation is fuelled by the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), allowing a wide range of interconnected devices, offering unprecedented control and monitoring capabilities.

Modern agricultural security systems integrate various components into a cohesive network, including video surveillance, access control, and environmental monitoring.

Just take, for example, how video surveillance through the use of high-definition cameras can monitor livestock, crop fields, and farm storage areas, providing real-time feeds, accessible from anywhere.

Smart locks provide better managed access control to restricted areas. Sensors measure and detect temperature, humidity, and other environmental changes.

These modern capabilities offer clear benefits, from the reduced need for constant human monitoring to comprehensive visibility of large farm areas and the ability to quickly detect anomalies such as unauthorised entry or hazards – fires, floods, or equipment failures.

Meanwhile, centralised control through cloud platforms makes managing security across multiple locations more efficient.

However, these advancements introduce new challenges. IP-based systems, while powerful, are also vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Hackers can exploit these systems to gain unauthorised access, disrupt operations, or steal sensitive information. Understanding these risks is crucial for mitigating them and enhancing a farm’s overall security.

Common vulnerabilities that can be leveraged in agricultural IP-based systems:

  • Default usernames and passwords: Many devices come with factory-set default credentials, often readily available to the public or easily crackable. Failure to change these leaves systems wide open.
  • Lack of network segmentation: Without proper segmentation, a breach in one area can affect the entire network. Effective segmentation limits the damage a hacker can cause.
  • Open ports: While necessary for remote access, open ports are entry points for attackers. Continuous monitoring and strict access controls are essential to secure these ports.
  • Wireless connections: Wireless networks are convenient but vulnerable to eavesdropping and interference. Encryption and regular security checks are required to protect them.
  • Outdated firmware and cryptography: Security devices and protocols need regular updates. Outdated systems are easy targets for bad actors.

Attacks are also becoming more sophisticated, leveraging AI and Machine Learning to identify weaknesses in security systems. Take, for example, how common AI-powered attacks could be used in a farm setting:

AI tools can quickly scan and identify vulnerabilities in farm security systems, adapting strategies dynamically to bypass defences.

Or AI-powered drones could be used maliciously to gather information on farm layouts, security camera blind spots, and entry points, providing attackers with detailed information to plan their breaches.

What are the implications in a farming environment? Well, a security breach can lead to unauthorised access to live and archived video feeds, compromising the privacy and security of farm operations.

Hackers can also take control of operational technology, potentially causing physical damage or disrupting critical processes such as irrigation, feeding schedules, and temperature control.

In this landscape, it’s essential to proactively address vulnerabilities by regularly reviewing and managing the network’s attack surface – the weak links in your systems which are most likely to be exploited by an attacker.

It’s also important to understand just how your devices are connected.

One of the biggest challenges here is that as the scale of your networks grows, so does the complexity involved in updating, managing, and supporting them.

Each additional device introduces new potential vulnerabilities which require meticulous security planning and ongoing management and updates to maintain high levels of cybersecurity resiliency.

The solution?

Given these challenges, a strong and effective solution is needed to improve farm security installations and reduce vulnerabilities.

Exposure to the public internet is at the heart of these vulnerabilities, necessitating a network solution that connects unlimited devices, systems, locations, and applications without exposure to the public internet.

A fully secure, private network with fast, easy connection, control and communication between all devices introduces several key benefits for farms:

Enhanced security: Eliminating public internet exposure makes it harder for attackers to find vulnerabilities. Data remains within the private network, minimising the risk of interception or unauthorised access.

Simplified management: Using a single and secure network for all communications is simple to manage. Deployment is also faster and less complicated. The simpler the network infrastructure, the less it’s likely to cost you.

Flexibility in deployment: Suitable for both remote farms without cabled internet access and urban agricultural settings.

Mobile data SIMs can connect devices in remote areas, while high-quality CCTV can be used in cabled environments, all within the same secure network.

Securing the best of both worlds

The transition from isolated, standalone security systems to interconnected networks has increased security capabilities for farmers but also introduced new risks.

With secure, private networks now a realistic option for agricultural businesses, it’s possible to leverage solutions that offer all the features and functionality of modern installations, without their vulnerabilities.

Spitfire Unified Network is an example of such a solution. This private, closed network avoids the public internet entirely, enhancing security and simplifying the management of security systems.

By eliminating internet exposure, it strengthens the weak links where attackers could force entry. All data remains within the private network, minimising the risk of interception or unauthorised access.

In this way, farmers can protect their operations, ensure a secure and efficient farming environment, and leverage the benefits of modern technologies.

Contact us today to see how Spitfire Unified Network can work for you and transform your farming IoT solution.