Frank Burkett working at a desk

Playing Cyber Defense

Cyberattacks continue to appear in headlines every week across the world. From hospitals to retail giants, there aren’t many organizations or industries shielded from the effects of bad digital actors with criminal intent. MMPA member, Frank Burkett, recognizes the threat it plays to his farm and the agriculture industry as a whole.

“You’ve seen entire companies experience prolonged shut downs because of cyberattacks,” Burkett said. “What’s the electrical grid’s sensitivity to cyberattacks? How does that impact everything from manufacturing to farms to all the other pieces. As we continue to digitalize, which we’re not reversing from, then we’re going to have to continue to focus on how we protect and secure it.”

Burkett is the fifth generation on Clardale Farms, operating 1,900 acres and milking 699 Holsteins in Canal Fulton, Ohio. In partnership with his uncles, Burkett manages employees, account receivables, account payables, project management, along with planting and spraying corn and soybeans.

phone in front of dairy equipment
Nearly all data collected on Clardale Farms can be accessed from a cellphone. From automatic calf feeders to parlor data to camera systems, Burkett has his phone in hand to make data driven decisions no matter where he is working from.

“I actually wear a couple hats right now,” Burkett said. “I am manager and owner here on the farm. My second role is as an owner at Hills Supply which is a DeLaval dairy equipment dealership that covers the state of Ohio and parts of Michigan, Indiana and surrounding states. And then last April I stepped down as president of Ohio Farm Bureau and continue to be engaged in the community.”

His experiences off the farm, along with a couple bad encounters on the farm, is what guides the decisions he makes about keeping his farm’s digital presence secure.

Financial Security

“Cybersecurity and online fraud have become huge from a business standpoint. It’s definitely changed how we do business – at Hills and everywhere,” Burkett said. “On the farm, we’re actually running on our third checking account since I returned here because of fraud.”

Surprisingly enough, despite farm-related data starting in the milking parlor and in the fields, Burkett knows firsthand that some of the most critical information to protect can actually be what’s on paper.

“We’ve had three fraud related incidents at the farm in the last three years, and they’ve been traced back to processing centers like power bills, electric bills, stuff that goes to a lock box where somebody’s processing it,” Burkett said. “All it took was for somebody in a processing center to snap a picture of one of our checks and decide to start making checks off of it.”

As a consequence, Clardale Farms is transitioning to direct ACH payment to prevent putting checks in the mail. Burkett’s word of advice to anyone just starting to think about their farm’s security begins with simply keeping your checks locked up because “they’re an open door to your bank account and one of the highest risk areas on the farm.” Burkett’s other words of advice for financial security is to make reviewing your bank account part of your daily routine.

“A major advantage to us from a financial security standpoint is that almost every bank has an app for your phone that allows you to take five minutes every day and just scroll through what’s cleared the day before,” Burkett said. “Through that process is where I identified the fraud on our farm at first, and that’s when I contacted the bank right away because there was a substantial check in the tens of thousands of dollars that had cleared the bank. I did not write that check and when I pulled the image up on it, it clearly wasn’t even our check. Somebody had just taken a check image and put our numbers on it.”

Border Security

TV screen displaying camera feed footage
Clardale Farms’ camera system currently retains 14 days of footage. This year, Burkett is planning on extending the retention time to 30 days to better aid employee training and farm monitoring.

Clardale Farms also maintains an extensive camera system that’s relied on by employees to help save time by allowing them to check on certain pens and areas of the farm without needing to walk there. Burkett reviews the footage regularly for employee training and farm security.

“Cameras are a recent addition within the past year, and it keeps expanding to more and more cameras,” Burkett said. “We keep finding more and more things we want to monitor, like the freshening and holding pens. The team here has a dozen more cameras that they want added yet.”

The addition of cameras is driven by employees because of Burkett’s approach to using them for training, rather than catching people in the act.

“We don’t use the cameras as a gotcha type thing, but we do use it to look at procedures and then we will tailor our training to it,” Burkett explained. “For example, our cell count is a little higher right now than we want to see it and we’ve been looking at videos and we see some things we don’t like, so we’ll do some general training with everybody.”

In addition, the cameras serve the obvious benefit of giving Burkett and his team the ability to monitor the farm for security purposes. Living in a densely populated area and with the farm being a staple in the community, they often receive a lot of visitors both scheduled and unscheduled. The camera system that Clardale Farms uses allows Burkett and the team to view the live video feeds and replay clips from them to monitor what’s happening on the farm from anywhere and at any time.

Frank Burkett working at a desk
Modeled after what he saw in corporate settings, Burkett’s desks in each of his offices is set up with monitors and a docking station for his laptop which allows him to seamlessly move between locations while providing the same access to information regardless of where he’s working from.

Digital Improvements

As for what’s next, Burkett is always reviewing current best practices that he experiences in leadership roles off the farm and his next project is setting up emails for his farm employees.

“Right now, everybody’s just using their personal email for farm business, but now we’re transitioning to an Outlook account with an administrator,” Burkett said. “From a liability standpoint, it makes a lot of sense that if your business, even as a dairy farm, if your employees are doing farm related business, they’re using farm emails.”

The step is in response to realizing Hills made the transition to Outlook a long time ago, and now recently even added multifactor authentication, where a secondary pin must be entered to prove your identity before logging in. Burkett recognizes that when it comes to multifactor authentication, “I use it everywhere else now. This is the only place I don’t use it.” And while it can be annoying to get the pin sent via email or text and to enter it in, a farm is a business too and Burkett is playing a game of chess with bad actors in the cyberspace.

“There’s always somebody trying to disrupt your business, whether it’s for financial reasons or they just think it’s fun, and then there’s always somebody trying to prevent that disruption. How are those two interacting and ultimately who’s winning? I think in our business, whether it’s Hills Supply or Clardale Farms, at some point you ask, what level of disruption am I comfortable with? I personally like to manage it.”

This article was originally published in the January/February 2023 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »