Rice Farming

Secure Your Farm Network

Keep out hackers, viruses and other destructive programs/files

By Vicki Garrick

Farm networks offer growers a way to perform tasks remotely. Turning on and off irrigation pumps and monitoring employees with a camera are examples of jobs that can be achieved with the click of the mouse from the comfort of the office.

If the farm network is connected to the Internet, a grower doesn’t even need to be physically on the farm to monitor and control any devices on the network. As more network-enabled gadgets evolve for agriculture, the benefits of having a globally accessible farm network will continue to grow, also.

Although global access offers clear benefits, it is important to take the necessary precautions to ensure that the security of the network, computers and data are not compromised by hackers, viruses or other destructive programs or files.

The farm network and its components are all valuable assets. Upfront planning and continued maintenance of these resources can stretch the life of your investment. The simple steps outlined here don’t cost a great deal of money or time, but can save you many headaches.

Vickie Garrick is IT Senior Manager for the National Environmentally Sound Production Agriculture Laboratory (NESPAL) in Tifton, Ga. Contact Garrick at garrick@uga.edu.

To help keep your network safe:

1. Purchase a router with an integrated firewall and gateway for your network.
This device attaches to the modem your ISP (Internet Service Provider) supplies and keeps you secure by inspecting all data that flows into and out of your network. If unauthorized activity is detected, it will be blocked before any damage can be done. This tool helps keep your network secure as well as providing an Internet connection for other computers. A router will cost from $40 to $120 depending on the model. Low-end models should be sufficient for most users. Reliable brands include: Linksys, DLink, Netgear and Belkin.

2. Take the time to configure your router.
The default options may allow someone to log into the router (through the Internet) and make changes. A setup wizard is normally provided to guide you through the configuration.

3. Passwords need to be unique.
It’s best if they include numbers, characters and special characters such as: !@#$%*& (no profanity intended).

4. Tips on the setup of a wireless router include:
a. Be sure to name your SSID (Service Set IDentifier) something that relates to your farm network. This is the ID or name of a wireless local network. It is important that it is changed from the default ID as this information is accessible to hackers

b. Setup encryption. Encryption scrambles communications over the Internet and is one of the most effective ways to secure your network from hackers. WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) and MAC (Media Access Control) filtering is better than not using anything. However, I suggest either WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) or WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 2), which offers more protection. Once the router is configured, you will need to configure any laptops or desktops to connect to your secure wireless network.

c. Remember the more exclusive your passwords on any device, the harder it is for someone to breach your network.

d. Note: If you do not secure your wireless network, any unwelcome visitor with a wireless device can connect to your network, use your bandwidth and infect your computers.

5. Update your computers’ OS (Operating System) regularly.
Keeping the OS up-to-date helps block destructive programs or files that attack your computer or network. These include Trojans, Malware, Spyware, Worms and Viruses. Updates for Microsoft Windows OS can be downloaded from Microsoft’s Web site. To check for updates, connect to the Internet and open Internet Explorer, click on “Tools” then “Windows updates.” Follow the instructions on the screen. All vendors of operating systems post updates on their Web sites.

6. Invest in Anti-Virus software and keep your subscriptions current.
Configure the software to automatically update, scan your hard drive on a weekly or daily basis, scan incoming email and clean any infected file.

7. Use caution opening files sent by Email.
Email attachments are used to spread Trojans, Worms and Viruses so be sure you know who is sending you the attachment. If you do not recognize the sender, delete the email before opening it.

8. Backup your data on a regular schedule.
External hard drives can be purchased for a few hundred dollars. For example: Seagate 300GB for $119 or WD Elements 500GB for $134. The best way to protect your data is to maintain current backups. Look for a way to automate the backup process. Microsoft Windows XP and Vista both have built in backup software you can utilize. Go to “Help” in your OS and type “backup” for options and instructions.