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Agriculture Cybersecurity is a National Concern

Modern technology has dramatically impacted the operations of agribusinesses. For many rural businesses and farms, one of the primary challenges of adopting technology is cybersecurity. Even now, for several industries and sectors, the concept of cybersecurity is an afterthought.

Added to that, there has been an unprecedented surge in the number of cyberattacks targeted against US agriculture. This year, among the notable ones, was the attack on meat processing company JBS, which affected several of the company’s facilities in the US. The attack caused the company to close its beef and pork processing plants temporarily. Following the attack, which was a ransomware one in nature, the company paid the hackers, who were believed to be part of REvil ransomware gang operating in Russia, with $11 million in cryptocurrency.

But the attacks did not stop there. In September, cyberattacks on two major agricultural cooperatives were carried out. The cooperatives were able to continue operating only after they had to revert to paper transactions.

Government takes notice

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urged US agricultural cooperatives to “harden” defenses against cyber-attacks following the attack. “We want to make sure during this harvest that we don’t have any additional disruptions as a result of systems being hacked,” Vilsack said.

Recently, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) recently took the floor to note that farmers’ exposure to cyber vulnerabilities is increasing exponentially with farmers adopting new technologies. According to Senator Joni Ernst, “The ag sector is designated as critical infrastructure but historically has not received robust cybersecurity support from the government.”

She added, “Advancing technology and fulfilling food demands while also working to improve soil and water quality demands heavy reliance on interconnected devices and the internet, creating vulnerability.”

Attacks against farms are a much more significant concern

Several farmers and cooperatives are yet to understand that even farms are vulnerable to cyberattacks. In August 2021, a group of hackers demonstrated how they could remotely control farm equipment, such as self-propelled tractor units. The hackers said they were able to exploit the systems of these machines. In such a scenario, any malicious actor can tamper with the signals sent by sensors to disrupt farming operations.

Reports indicate that even telecommunications companies that deal with farm-level data could also be targeted. This information could include the transfer of farm-level data and its analysis.

Scope for improvement

Although the food and agricultural sectors have been targeted by cyberattacks, they do not currently have a central clearinghouse to coordinate their response. Instead, they have voluntary guidelines on how to secure their networks.

The Biden administration recently outlined a new National Security Memorandum to strengthen the country’s critical infrastructure sectors, including agriculture. The major hurdle here is also the fact that several of the mandates were voluntary.

Farm owners should take note of the warning signs and avoid making the systems too insecure. Many of the farms’ computers were designed for consumer use and did not have business settings. Reaching out to cybersecurity solutions providers like Alliant Cybersecurity can bring about a much-desired change. Alliant Cybersecurity caters to a much niche market comprising of several small and medium businesses. Our team includes thought-leaders, authors, and highly respected experts in cybersecurity, legislation, and the professional service industry.