Experts warn that modern “smart” farm gear is vulnerable to hostile hackers, putting global supply lines at risk. Hackers may be able to take advantage of weaknesses in agricultural technology used to sow and harvest crops.
John Deere, the agricultural manufacturing behemoth, said it is immediately working to rectify any software flaws. Automatic crop sprayers, drones, and robotic harvesters, according to a new University of Cambridge paper, might all be hacked.
Cyber-attacks are becoming more dangerous, according to the UK government and the FBI. Customers, machinery, and data are all “top priorities,” according to John Deere.
Smart technology is rapidly being employed to make farms more efficient and productive; for example, the labor-intensive harvesting of delicate food crops like asparagus has hitherto been out of reach of machines.
Artificial intelligence is used in the latest generation of agricultural robots to reduce human participation. They may help to fill a labour shortfall or enhance yield, but there is growing worry about the inherent security risk, adding to concerns about food supply lines already jeopardised by the Ukraine and Covid wars.
“There is a real risk that people anywhere in the world could try and take control of these machines,” he said. “to get them to do whatever those people want, or just prevent them from operating,” said Chris Chavasse, the co-founder of Muddy Machines, which is trialling an autonomous asparagus-harvesting robot called Sprout.
He noted that someone might conceivably drive Sprout into a hedge or ditch, or prevent it from working at all, so they’re working with security researchers to fix any flaws.
Chavasse says hostile hackers could harm “mission important” agricultural infrastructure, although asparagus growing is unlikely to be a target. Even the largest corporations are vulnerable to cyber criminals. Ransomware is malicious software that encrypts data and locks systems.
JBS, one of the world’s largest meat processing companies, paid a ransom of $11 million to resolve a cyber attack last year. AGCO, a leading US agriculture company, was struck by a ransomware attack earlier this month, disrupting operations.
In April, a group of official government cyber security officials from the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia warned that Russian state-sponsored hackers might target supply chains, which are a critical component of Western national infrastructure.
Sick Codes, a self-described ethical hacker who requested anonymity, told the BBC that he had uncovered flaws in John Deere’s software and had reported them. He said that he was able to gain access to company information and machine data via websites and apps.
Sick Codes also claimed to have discovered flaws in CNH Industrial’s systems, which manufactures New Holland Agriculture machinery.
He believes it’s only a matter of time before a skilled hacker discovers fundamental flaws and causes major disruption to already susceptible systems.
“That’s what we’re trying to prevent – stalling something during the most important times, particularly seeding or harvesting. If you can’t move your tractor during that time, or if you can’t pick or take the crop out of the ground, you can imagine what happens. It just stops, the whole thing,” he said.
According to the BBC, John Deere’s worldwide chief information security officer, James Johnson, has been working with a number of ethical hackers to identify vulnerabilities.
Sick Codes’ findings, he claimed, “do not constitute a threat to customers or their machines.”
He added, “No company, including John Deere, is immune to vulnerabilities, but we are deeply committed and work tirelessly to safeguard our customers, and the role they play in the global food supply chain.”
CNH Industrial, according to a spokeswoman, takes security very seriously and “constantly invests in enhancing our security posture.”
“Hacking into one tractor, you may upset a farmer and maybe ruin their profitability for a season,” Benjamin Turner, chief operating officer at Agrimetrics, one of four UK government-backed agri-tech centres of agricultural innovation, said.
“Hacking into a fleet of tractors, suddenly, you’ve got the power to affect the yield in whole areas of the country.”
(Adapted from BBC.com)