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Rise of Precision Agriculture Exposes Food System to New Threats

Rise of Precision Agriculture Exposes Food System to New Threats

By George Grispos and Austin C. Doctor

Farmers are adopting precision agriculture, using data collected by GPS, satellite imagery, internet-connected sensors and other technologies to farm more efficiently. While these practices could help increase crop yields and reduce costs, the technology behind the practices is creating opportunities for extremists, terrorists and adversarial governments to attack farming machinery, with the aim of disrupting food production.

Food producers around the world have been under increasing pressure, a problem exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and rising fuel and fertilizer costs. Farmers are trying to produce more food but with fewer resources, pushing the food production system toward its breaking point.

In this environment, it's understandable that many U.S.  are turning to modern information technologies to support decision-making and operations in managing crop production. These precision agriculture practices lead to more efficient use of land, water, fuel, fertilizer and pesticides so that farmers can grow more, reduce costs and minimize their impact on the environment.

As researchers in cybersecurity and national security at the National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology, and Education Center, we see cause for concern. The advent of precision farming comes at a time of significant upheaval in the  and as the number of foreign and domestic hackers with the ability to exploit this technology continues to grow.

New opportunities for exploitation

Cyberattacks against agricultural targets are not some far-off threat; they are already happening. For example, in 2021 a  forced a fifth of the beef processing plants in the U.S. to shut down, with one company paying nearly $11 million to cybercriminals. REvil, a Russia-based group, claimed responsibility for the attack.

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