Cyber Security & Agriculture

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  • #2777

    With cyber security becoming an increasingly discussed field in the media, it is natural that the term has come to conjure certain images. Allegations of political interference cause Russian troll farms to spring mind, while economic hacking and corporate espionage might prompt recollections of recent spats between Beijing and Washington.
    One might also consider – reasonably enough – military matters, since modern warfare has witnessed a startling series of advancements in a variety of sectors from drone technology to advanced stealth capabilities for aircraft, and the attempts of external actors to steal research and information have brought to the fore the necessity to develop adequate defences.

    A field not typically associated with cyber security, however, is agriculture. Indeed, although technological development and its impact on the world is a topic of frequent discussion in public forums (particularly with regards to the impact of social media and the economic effects of automation), its incorporation into farming practices is something rarely considered or, indeed, mentioned. When one considers technological advancements in agriculture, perhaps the evolution from the horse-and-cart to the tractor comes to mind, but the idea of autonomous robots picking fruit, radio frequency ID-tagged livestock and GPS use might not.

    “The farm of the future, I think, could be very, very different from the farm of today,” Mike Stern, head of the Climate Corporation, told CNBC. “There is no doubt that there will be more automation on the farm. There will be many, many more sensors measuring all sorts of different elements of how to manage a crop on a farm. I have no doubt that these technologies are fundamentally going to change the way that we use our natural resources to produce food. Even today, I am sure we can’t even articulate where these technologies will end up 10 years from now.”

    Yet as with any other field, with the benefits of technological advancement come the dangers. The idea that agriculture requires cyber security is a peculiar notion even to those in the sector itself, a notion best demonstrated by the fact that in 2010 two US oversight agencies, the FDA and USDA, considered cyber security a ‘low priority’; it was not until 2015 that more attention was paid to cyber threats, but by then five years had been lost, during which time threats evolved and defences remained underdeveloped.

    The chain of links between producer, distributor and consumer within agriculture is long and full of gaps, and these can be exploited by outsiders with the growing adoption of ‘Precision Agriculture’, which uses increasingly large amounts of software and hardware. Unlike other sectors which have used modern computer technology concurrently with its development (such as the military), agriculture is making something of a sharp transition into the technological field, and its history of reliance on mechanical or manual methods has left it rather unprepared to defend itself in something of a new realm.

    However, although agriculture is comparatively new to modern technologies, the cyber threats facing it are familiar to almost every other industry: hacking, viruses, and data theft. Data privacy on a farm principally takes the form of figures related to yield data, land prices and herd health, as well as issues related to identity theft. As well as the risk of patents and technology being stolen, any information acquired by hostile actors could be used against farmers to manipulate the market against them.

    According to the US Department of Homeland Security, the risk is chiefly due to the lack of coordinated efforts of cyber security in agriculture. “There has been an explosion of DSS (Decision Support Systems) and farm information management systems (FIMS), primarily mobile apps, designed to support farmers,” the agency reported. “Many have been built by start-ups or university extension programs which outsource their programming, and may not provide updates or patching. Privacy controls, user agreements, third party applications, and system update procedures are haphazard at best.”

    Given the new status of technology in agriculture, it should be not overly surprising that unlike challenges such as crop borne diseases or food-borne illnesses, information sharing over cyber security issues remains in its infancy. However, this means that there is also certainly room for cyber security to grow into this field, as Dale Meyerrose, former US Air Force general and ex-Director of National Intelligence, states: “I am not seeing a lot happening. In part, because the idea of precision agriculture is a fairly new one… [but]I think there is plenty of flight space for other startups to innovate. Let’s say I am a startup and I want to make my name in the cyber security business.

    A startup company that concentrates on the threats that are peculiar to agribusiness, I think there is a lot of flight space–almost an open field–in which they should find lots of traction. If they do it right, the problem will be controlling their growth.”

    Therefore, despite the risks and dangerous that face a historically mechanical sector still struggling to adapt to the digital world, it would seem that cyber security is certainly a seed worth planting in the agricultural field.

    #2783

    Good article Timothy. The agricultural sector is indeed unique. Whether it is high-tech grain and food processing, wired-up off-road machinery and equipment, GPS tracking or radio frequency ID-tagged livestock, this sector relies on information systems to improve and sustain operations, profitability, competitiveness.

    With the increasing world population and rising standards of living, getting more efficient yields is more crucial than ever – future demands for agricultural products will only rise. Failure to incorporate computer science and remote sensing, a significant increase in agricultural yields may not be realized.

    New technology comes with risks. And the agricultural sector is more targeted than ever. Threats against precision farming systems can threaten data Availability, Confidentiality and Integrity, which are the fundamental principles of information security.

    Prospects of agroterrorism is a big concern for the agricultural sector. For instance, a sophisticated terrorist attack could damage US status as a reliable food exporter and lead to a lack of domestic confidence in the food supply chain. The continuing digitization in the agricultural sector opens new opportunities to attack in places that were previously too difficult or remote to attack.

    The risks of agroterrorism are too large to ignore. I would recommend that the relevant agencies and companies increase investments in cybersecurity and improvement in cyber-threat information sharing mechanism for the agricultural sector.

    #2784

    This is a very interesting piece Timothy.

    It is true that the agricultural sector is rarely affiliated to cybersecurity. Although there has been quite a number of technological advancements looking to make farming more productive, we have rarely seen any incidences where cyber criminals have taken advantage of agriculture to commit their offenses.

    But as has been the trend for many years, anything that is attached to technology is an opportunity for cyber crime to thrive. Cyber criminals are quite opportunistic and there is no doubt that they would try to exhaust every avenue to accomplish their missions.

    That is why ignoring that fact that agriculture could be used to commit internet crimes is imprudent. It is important that we are always prepared even where there seems to be no danger.

    #2874
    #5951

    Again, proof that everything that is mechanised and online is under direct threat. It seems that there isn’t a single sector now that does not employ the use of the internet, since even the farming trade, considered to be perhaps the most manual, is now modernising and becoming tech savvy. Hence, that is why it is crucial for people to ride the wave that is cyber security, and they should do so firstly by being well informed, and secondly by being secured through a cyber security service provider. Anything less is far too much of a risk.

    #5970

    Wow! Even in agriculture, there is now the threat of cyber crime! It is astounding to realise that not a single part of our lives is left untouched by the internet and technology. Everything has become modernised. Soon enough, they’ll be an app controlling toilet flushing, with cyber criminals trying to hack the toilets to cause them to overflow, if this doesn’t probably exist already!

    #5983

    Yes, it’s not a field (if you’ll pardon the pun) people associate with cyber matters, but will increasingly be so. The danger is that it’s going to be neglected in the face of more obviously techno-centric spheres. I think with the advent of robotics and increasing automation this will be of even greater importance in the relatively near future.

    #6007

    And yet there are countries that haven’t even begun modernising or tech-infusing essential fields and are so far behind. The way the world works is truly a marvel. Some places seem full speed ahead while others lag so far behind, they will realistically never catch up.

    #6066

    I think this integration of tech and cyber security in the agricultures field can really go a long way in improving how harvests are produced and managed worldwide. Time has proven that whenever technology is introduced into any sector, that sector shows clear signs of upward mobility and everyone reaps the benefits, from supplier to consumer. The fact is, nothing is not tech-centric anymore, and in the world we will have 50 years from now, everything will rely on machines and technology. That is why regardless of how one feels about cyber security, it has become an absolute necessity in the world we find ourselves in today.

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