Monsanto confirms security breach at Precision Planting unit

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 29, 2014 - Monsanto officials have been quietly alerting some farmers, dealers, employees and industry leaders in recent weeks that a computer server at their Precision Planting center in Tremont, Illinois, was remotely hacked, industry sources told Agri-Pulse.

One farmer who was contacted by Monsanto but who asked not to be identified said he was told that the breach affected data for about 900 customers, 300 employees and 400 dealers.

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Monsanto confirmed that the security breach occurred in late March on a server that stored employee and customer account information, including some credit card information and tax ID numbers.

“The incident didn't impact the farming data collected by Precision Planting equipment (like yield data), as that is stored on a separate system,” confirmed Christy Toedebusch, a spokeswoman for Monsanto's Climate Corp. unit, which manages the Precision Planting business.

Monsanto announced plans to purchase Precision Planting, a closely-held company started by an Illinois farm family, on May 23, 2012.

“We believe this unauthorized access was not an attempt to steal customer information and are not aware of any misuse of the information impacted by the incident,” Toedebusch said in an e-mail. “However, because unauthorized access to customer information may have occurred, we notified customers whose information was present on the affected server and are offering them a complimentary credit monitoring service for one year.”

In addition, the company said it is working to increase security safeguards on the impacted server and reviewing the security on other servers in an effort to prevent further incidents.

“While no system can be completely secure, we believe our new security protocols will provide significant protection for customer data,” Toedebusch added.

The breach occurred just as several farm organizations, driven in part by the American Farm Bureau Federation, are discussing how companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Deere & Co. and others will protect and secure data collected on a wide range of farming practices. The farm groups have also raised a host of questions about data ownership.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman told Agri-Pulse today that he had already been alerted about Monsanto's security breach.

“If the Defense Department and large corporations like Target have been hacked, you have to expect that it will ultimately happen to agricultural companies,” Stallman said. “Anyone who is somewhat aware of this debate over data management understands that security is a big issue.”

 

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