How Rural Businesses Can Overcome Their Cyber ​​Security Disadvantages

How Rural Businesses Can Overcome Their Cyber ​​Security Disadvantages

Cyber ​​attacks are a major business concern in countries around the world, and all organizations need to prioritize their cyber security postures. It is clear that the threat landscape is also expanding, and falling victim to industrial cybercrime can have dire consequences for an organization. These include downtime, loss or theft of sensitive data, network outage, and reputation damage.

According to UK government research, 39% of companies reported being hacked in the last 12 months. Ransomware attacks were considered the top cyber threats facing the UK last year, with the National Cyber ​​Security Center (NCSC) even suggesting that ransomware attacks could be just as damaging as cyber warfare and espionage incidents. state sponsored.

In fact, no business is immune from experiencing a cybersecurity crisis, regardless of size, location, or industry. Rural businesses, however, face unique disadvantages compared to their urban counterparts. While all businesses struggle to stem the tide, rural businesses tend to suffer from complacency, a lack of a mature cybersecurity posture, and a lack of resources. These organizations therefore need to harness their knowledge and increase their cyber resiliency to keep threats to a minimum.

Rural businesses are just as likely to be attacked as their urban counterparts.

According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), rural England played host to 549,000 registered companies in 2020 and 2021, representing 23% of all organizations in the country. These companies were responsible for employing 3.6 million employees. The same report also shows that 14% of these are in the agricultural, forestry and fishing industries; this sector is vitally important – in 2020 alone, it contributed over £9bn.

Though remote and seemingly out of reach, these rural organizations are still in the spotlight. They tend to be mostly small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), so owners may feel like they can fly under a cybercriminal’s radar. These companies, however, remain largely a target. Both rural and urban businesses face similar cybersecurity challenges, even if small business owners may think otherwise. Common types of cyber attacks on SMBs of all kinds include ransomware, phishing or whaling attacks, database breaches, malware infections, and fraudulent payment requests.

As Phillip Hummeau, CEO of open source collaborative cyber defense platform CrowdSec, suggests: “Rural communities face the same cybersecurity challenges as large cities, but lack sufficient resources to prevent and remediate cyberattacks.”

What cybersecurity disadvantages do rural businesses face?

A significant cybersecurity disadvantage facing rural businesses right now is the high cost of cyber insurance premiums. In 2021, 29% of UK SMEs abandoned their cost-cutting plans. Many SMBs don’t believe they would be a major target of a cybersecurity attack, prompting them to accept the risk and drop their insurance coverage.

Another disadvantage rural businesses face is their inability to implement cyber security full-time. Eric Florence, a cybersecurity analyst at SecurityTech, was often hired by rural businesses as a consultant because they never had the wherewithal to focus on cybersecurity. According to Florence, “Hackers have known for years that rural databases are easy money in terms of security.”

It is also common for rural businesses to fall behind on security. due to limited funding and a shortage of cybersecurity skills, coupled with the use of outdated technology systems. Maintaining a strong cybersecurity posture is already a challenge for the most digitally mature organizations. Some of the factors used to measure a company’s digital maturity include its technology capabilities, IT infrastructure, use of existing technology, digital integration, as well as employee training and skills development.

Rural businesses that do not have these building blocks are considered the least digitally mature, putting them at a significant disadvantage and making them an easy and attractive target for cybercriminals.

Rural businesses around the world are targets

Cybersecurity issues in rural areas are not limited to UK businesses. The US government, for example, has issued several warnings to agricultural businesses regarding a moderate increase in cyberattacks.

“These attacks have taken many different forms, from malware infections that can damage or destroy crops to more sophisticated attacks that aim to hijack irrigation systems and other vital farm equipment,” says Magda Lilia Chelly, director of information security ( CISO) from Responsible Cyber. .

Rural industries and businesses in Australia are also vulnerable. For example, two high-profile attacks include a 2020 malware attack that shut down wool sales in New Zealand and Australia along with a 2021 attack on JBS, a global meat processing giant.

Other cyber attacks in various countries have had a negative impact on rural areas, meaning that these cyber security threats are prevalent throughout the world. It seems that security, especially in rural communities, will become a more pressing issue in the future

How can rural businesses address cyber security?

Rural businesses in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors are using more digital technologies and automated farm equipment, particularly Internet of Things (IoT) devices, which will inevitably increase the attack surface.

Online accounting tools, email, digital payment solutions and the latest agricultural innovationssuch as driverless tractors, automatic milking machines, and robotic harvesters, can also increase a rural business’s cybersecurity exposure.

Fortunately, rural organizations don’t have to manage cybersecurity alone. According to Keiron Holyome, Vice President of BlackBerry UKI, Middle East and Africa, “Automated cybersecurity solutions leveraging AI can help businesses of all sizes overcome cybersecurity challenges without blowing their budgets.”

Holyome also encourages rural businesses to work with a managed service provider (MSP) to implement endpoint protection and a 24/7 externally monitored service known as extended detection and response (XDR). . Rural organizations can use these measures to implement enterprise-level cyber security for a fraction of the cost.

What help could the UK government offer?

Rural organizations can access government resources to improve their cybersecurity posture. For example, NCSC offers a wealth of guidance on cyber security and other useful resources for UK farmers on their website.

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), announced a cyber security course for agricultural businesses and their families in January. It was developed by the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Business (CAFRE) and is supported by the Northern Ireland Center for Cyber ​​Security. Participants learn skills including:

  • Benefits and risks of working online and using online services
  • Operating system (OS) and application software protection
  • Keep devices safe and secure
  • Keep data safe and secure while you communicate, access information online, and transact

Leveraging these resources can be a starting point to help educate rural business owners and help them begin to bolster their investment in cybersecurity.

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