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Attack of the Cybermen

Attack of the Cybermen

By Andrew Joseph,, Photo by FLY:D on Unsplash

With apologies to Doctor Who and her fans, cyber attacks are a real threat and one that could affect the global agricultural precision ag network if the sector doesn’t become more mindful.

A frank discussion by Andrew Rose, Executive Director of the not-for-profit company CyberAg was presented at the 2021 virtual Precision Agriculture Conference & Ag Technology Showcase held November 16-18.  

Calling himself a futurist living five years in the future, Rose said that cybersecurity and the threats it combats does not get the attention it deserves in the agricultural community—from the complacency of a production standpoint, but also from how cyber security provides perspective.

Rose stated that cybersecurity is still not viewed as a primary place to put defensive assets, and is why he started CyberAg this past summer to bring threat awareness, education and resource access to the ag and food supply chain.

He cited the recent ag-related cyber threat against John Deere who had previously stated their company and digital assets were extremely secure. Akin to waving a red cape in front of an agitated bull, hackers took up the challenge and discovered many what Rose described as a “tractor load of vulnerabilities” within the company’s security.

Luckily for John Deere et al, its hackers were of the non-malevolent kind only seeking to prove if the ag vehicle manufacture was correct in its claims.       

While Rose highlighted and praised the efforts of the legit cybersecurity hackers who penetrate a company’s firewall securities to either prove a point or to hopefully gain a modicum of financial thanks for pointing out the flaws, he noted that the real threat to ag cybersecurity was a essentially a big red menace.

Pointing directly at China and its well-advertised 14th five-year plan, he said the superpower is currently looking to target global agricultural technologies. Rose was careful to state, however, that the threat comes not from the Chinese people or from its foreign visitors or from those of Asian-descent now living abroad—but rather only the Chinese government mandates.

During his presentation, Rose provided clarification of the Chinese government threat and how farm equipment is firmly in the bullseye of the technology data they want to procure.

Although China had a $378-billion budget for R&D, foreign governments and cyber security experts like Rose have their collective hackles up. While much of the R&D technologies can be gleaned from their own legitimate sources, it is, according to Rose, expected that China will also attempt to procure sensitive technological data from more nefarious means—industrial espionage, if you will.

Although such ploys are hardly new to any industry, Rose said that China’s recent five-year plan of targeting ag technologies means the precision ag sector needs to be even more wary and protective of its data.

Rose provided examples of cyber attacks that allow hackers to infiltrate companies and to then open a door for use of a ransomware tool that will search for critical files and backups and then encrypt them so that no one can access them.

Sometimes data is stolen, other times the data is simply held for ransom until the company financially meets their criminal demands.

Although the news likes to present bad news with aplomb, Rose noted a recent example of a Russian hacker extradited to the US for his role in malware development. He also highlighted federal agencies, such as IC3, that use the help from employees to enable security agencies to be more proactive rather than reactive.

To view Rose’s presentation on cybersecurity and its affect on the ag sector, view the video below:

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