Artificial intelligence is on the verge of launching an agricultural revolution, helping to meet the challenge of sustaining the world’s growing population.
The latest generations of agricultural robots use AI, which allows them to perform a wide variety of tasks. The use of such “smart” equipment reduces human involvement, helping to alleviate labor shortages as well as increase productivity.
However, fears of security risks associated with smart equipment are also growing, raising concerns about already strained food supply chains.
A recent report from the University of Cambridge warns that autonomous drones, crop sprayers and robotic harvesters could be hacked to disrupt commercial farms.
And in April, the FBI issued a warning advising farmers and farmers to be prepared for increased ransomware attacks at critical times, such as spring planting and harvesting.
Ransomware groups see agriculture and farming as a profitable target, where victims may be more likely to pay a ransom for a decryption key due to the time-sensitive nature of the industry.
Last year, a massive cyber attack on meat giant JBS increased pressure on the food supply chain, which was already struggling with high transport costs, labor shortages and production constraints.
JBS reportedly paid $ 11 million to hackers after a cyber attack forced the company to close several plants in the United States and Australia, affecting beef markets.
Similarly, the FBI intercepted six ransomware attacks against grain cooperatives during the fall harvest of 2021; and earlier this month, a ransomware attack on US agribusiness AGCO disrupted production at the company.
Last year, a team of security researchers led by a hacker known as Sick Codes conducted a “good faith” review of John Deere and Case New Holland (CNH) industrial systems, identifying several vulnerabilities.
John Deere and Case New Holland are large American technology companies that produce high-tech agricultural equipment.
Researchers explained that the shortcomings of the operating system could allow the attacker to remotely download or upload data to agricultural equipment, such as tractors.
Sick Codes told BBC that it found deficiencies in John Deere software and used websites and applications to access company information and machine data.
He believes it is only a matter of time before an experienced hacker discovers critical flaws and disrupts vulnerable food supply chains.
“We try to prevent this – stopping something during the most important moments, especially sowing or harvesting. If you can’t move your tractor during this time, or if you can’t pick or remove the crop from the ground, you can imagine what is happening. It just stops, the whole thing, “he said.
James Johnson, John Deere’s global director of information security, told the BBC that the company was working with several ethical hackers to identify vulnerabilities.
The bugs found by Sick Codes do not pose a threat to consumers or their equipment, he said.
“No company, including John Deere, is immune to vulnerabilities, but we are deeply committed and working tirelessly to protect our customers and the role they play in the global food supply chain.”
“Everything is so interconnected now, just by taking down one system, it can stop supplies coming to us or stop the movement of tractors altogether,” said Richard Hedy, a beef and arable farmer in Buckinghamshire whose tractor can be used. controlled by GPS location system.
“If we are in a busy window, we can’t just have tractors.
“We saw empty shelves because of Covid – we can see the same thing happen if we get a cyber attack.