Agribusiness a Prime Target for Cyberattacks


Technological advancements allowing agribusinesses to improve efficiency, reduce costs and improve yields are leaving the industry vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Precision agriculture relies on remote sensing, global positioning systems and communication systems to create data analytics, big data and machine learning. The use of this technology allows farmers to precisely apply agricultural and livestock inputs such as fertilizer, seeds, and pesticides, which results in lower costs and improved results, according to the according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The consequence of connecting such a labor-intensive industry to the internet is that agribusinesses are largely unprepared for cyberattacks and threats common in other industries can have unique and far-reaching economic and national security consequences.

In agriculture, a bad actor could intentionally falsify data to show an outbreak of a particular livestock or crop disease, potentially causing massive economic disruption, complex foreign trade issues, and negatively impacting food security. Compromised technology could also cause sensors to kill crops through under- or over-watering, or injure livestock by altering the HVAC systems, said the DHS. Trade secrets and other intellectual property are also at risk. 

Looking at the losses in Advisen’s database, Agriculture, Forestry & Support Activities* had the greatest incidence of cyber-related losses driven by unintentional disclosure, lost or stolen data, and malicious data breaches.

Crop production had the second highest frequency of cyber-related attacks, dominated by malicious data breaches and unauthorized contact or disclosure. Animal Production & Aquaculture experienced fewer cyber-related losses, with half stemming from malicious data breaches, according to Advisen data.

Examples of some of the losses in Advisen’s database include:

A ransomware attack in 2019 took control of the servers at Applied Ecological Services, effectively locking them out of their accounts and threatening to destroy all server information until the ransom was paid.

 A 2019 loss in which an email containing confidential information regarding land authorization with First Nations was sent from the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development to a third-party by mistake.

Researchers who visited large farms in the United States in 2018 found that cyber threats to precision agriculture were often not fully understood or were not being treated seriously enough, according to the DHS.

Agribusinesses can reduce the risk of cyberattack by implementing many of the same security controls used in other industries. The DHS recommends implementing email and web browser protections, limiting and controlling network ports and protocols, separating operational technologies from business operations, and creating inventories of hardware and software assets.

*Examples of Agriculture, Forestry & Support Activities companies include Natural Resources Canada, Brother Wolf Animal Rescue and the Government of British Columbia.

Examples of Crop Production companies are Johnny’s Selected Seeds, The Vineyard House Winery, and Fast Growing Trees.

Examples of Animal Production & Aquaculture include, Lowood Sporthorses, Newberry Farms and the Dairy Gold Co-Operative Society.

Article Courtesy of Rebecca Gainsburg of Zywave

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