Security: FEATURE ARTICLE

Chew on This: IoT Security is Crucial to the Survival of the Food and Agriculture Industries

The revolutionary innovations in Internet of Things (IoT) have helped numerous industries, including food and agriculture, become increasingly efficient. However, like with everything else connected to the Internet, the threat of cyber assaults within the food and agriculture industries is ever present.

Indeed, ransomware attackers target food and agriculture organizations, which, of course, has the potential to dramatically disrupt enterprises. Thankfully, proper procedures exist to bolster the IoT security protections that are required.

An unsavory fact: Food manufacturers and distributors are under attack

JBS, a Brazilian meatpacking firm, announced in May of last year that their computer systems had been affected by a ransomware assault. As a result, they were forced to temporarily close a number of their meatpacking facilities across the world.

The corporation paid the hackers, who are thought to be members of a criminal group based in the Russian Federation. To restore control of their computer systems, JBS paid a ransom of $11 million in crypto money.

Similar attacks were also carried out on other agricultural companies in September of last year. Remarkably, both firms were able to keep almost all of their operations running by switching to paper-based trades at their warehouses and agricultural supply outlets.

Smaller farms are equally vulnerable to cyber-attacks in many areas of their operations. In fact, a gang of hackers released a video last August highlighting the risks of self-propelled tractors and farm equipment that rely on GPS signals to function.

The attacks have spread from the digital domain to manufacturing and distribution locations. Obviously, businesses in the industry will face severe losses as a consequence of ransom payments, decreased productivity, and restoration expenses. Unfortunately, they may also lose the trust of their customers along the way. That’s why cyber security measures are critical to protecting the assets of commercial farms and the food distribution network.

Biting back at security threats

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, some of the biggest security challenges in the agriculture and food sectors can be remedied. The key is to adhere to three guiding principles that have been around for a long time: confidentiality, integrity and accessibility.

Data confidentiality is obviously critical for farms and other organizations involved in the agriculture field. It also significantly impacts farmers who employ smart technology to boost agricultural yield while using fewer resources such as water and chemicals.

Farmers must secure their productivity statistics, agricultural practices, and other valuable information to make a living. Consider what would happen if someone stole that data via the farmers’ systems. What if that data were to accidentally leak to third-party companies? Businesses would experience a loss of trust, which would force them to shut down.

Data integrity is another critical element to consider. This is especially true given that modern agricultural and farming operations rely on data gathering and analysis to assist farmers in making farming-related choices.

Now, what if a malicious attacker were to falsify this data? They could potentially affect agricultural yields. This, in turn, would jeopardize the supply chain at the district, state, or even national levels. Attackers could also feed invalid information into a network system, putting crops and livestock at risk.

Accessibility is the third most significant security factor. Although natural catastrophes such as earthquakes and wildfire pose obvious threats to data accessibility, cyber assaults can wreak havoc on it.

Much of the large machinery used in agriculture is dependent on embedded tools such as telecommunication and guiding systems. If these networks upon which this large machinery relies were to be disrupted, then farmers might be unable to tend to their crops and livestock in a timely manner.

The concerns mentioned above, as well as their possible effects, emphasize how agriculture organizations function as key infrastructure. We have also seen why maintaining confidentiality, integrity, and accessibility in the agricultural area is critical.

Researchers from The University of Maryland Baltimore County used this premise to construct a possible risk scenario involving the prevention of cyberattacks. 

Using an IEEE 802.11 system, the researchers exploited faults in the system to prevent sensor information from reaching the external cloud. From there, the researchers enhanced the attack to block smart farming equipment from accessing the system.

The research confirms how vulnerability assessment and penetration test kits may benefit agricultural enterprises. This will allow information security workers to fix identified weaknesses in their systems while also evaluating their current safeguards.

Businesses can also improve their security by focusing on both biometrics and multi-factor authentication. To that aim, security teams must ensure that the authentication process on an IoT device is updated. Teams can also use multifactor authentication (MFA) to secure access to such devices if their accounts were to become compromised.

The takeaway

Although not all food and farm enterprises use IoT devices in their operations, that is likely to change, sooner rather than later. That’s because, in order to keep up with an increasing population, food production must increase. According to IEEE Spectrum, the world population is projected to hit 8.5 billion by the end of this decade, with 840 million people suffering from severe hunger. This data, coupled with the UN’s aim of achieving zero hunger by 2030, it seems likely that more and more farms will begin using smart farming technology in the near future.

The world of agriculture is fast-changing, especially given the expectations for modern innovations. This is why farms and agribusinesses should take precautions to defend themselves from cybersecurity risks.


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