Hackers might potentially take advantage of weaknesses in “smart” agricultural hardware used for sowing and harvesting crops. The agrarian manufacturing behemoth, John Deere, said it is immediately working to rectify any software flaws.
According to a new University of Cambridge investigation, automatic crop sprayers, drones, and robotic harvesters might be hacked. The UK government and the FBI have also warned that cyber-attacks are becoming more dangerous. John Deere views the protection of customers, their data, and their machinery as a “top priority.”
Smart technology is rapidly being employed to make farms more efficient and productive. For example, the labor-intensive harvesting of delicate food crops like asparagus has been something beyond the reach of machinery. Artificial intelligence is used in the current generation of agricultural robots to reduce human participation. They may assist in filling a labor shortfall or enhance production. Still, there is rising worry over the inherent security risk, adding to concerns about food supply chains already jeopardized by the Ukraine war and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Muddy Machines co-founder Chris Chavasse, who is testing an automated asparagus harvesting robot dubbed Sprout, said that cybercriminals from all around the world might try to take control of these machines. He added that someone might conceivably drive Sprout into a hedge or ditch or prevent it from operating, so they’re working with security researchers to fix any flaws.
Mr. Chavasse says hostile hackers might harm “mission critical” agricultural infrastructure, although asparagus growing is unlikely to be a target. Even the most significant corporations are vulnerable to cybercriminals. Some gangs employ ransomware: malicious code that encrypts data and locks systems. JBS, one of the world’s largest meat processing companies, paid a ransom of $11 million to end a cyber-attack last year. AGCO, a leading US agriculture company, was struck by a ransomware operation earlier this month, disrupting operations.
In April, a group of official government cyber security officials from the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia warned that Russian state-sponsored hackers might target supply chains, which are a critical component of Western national infrastructure. One self-described ethical hacker, who goes by the moniker Sick Codes and requests anonymity, said he uncovered flaws in John Deere’s software and reported them. He said that he could access business information and machine data via websites and applications.
Sick Codes also claimed to have discovered flaws in CNH Industrial’s systems, which makes New Holland Agriculture machinery. He believes it will only be a matter of time until a proficient hacker finds crucial flaws and disrupts already weak food supply chains.
“That’s what we’re trying to prevent – stalling something during the most important times, particularly seeding or harvesting. If you can’t move your tractor during that time, or if you can’t pick or take the crop out of the ground, you can imagine what happens. It just stops, the whole thing,” he said.
According to James Johnson, John Deere’s worldwide chief information security officer, the corporation has been working with some ethical hackers to identify vulnerabilities. He claimed those detected by Sick Codes thus far did “not pose a threat to customers or their machines.” He added, “no company, including John Deere, is immune to vulnerabilities, but we are deeply committed and work tirelessly to safeguard our customers, and the role they play in the global food supply chain.”
According to a spokesperson, CNH Industrial takes security very seriously and constantly invests in enhancing its security posture. Benjamin Turner, chief operating officer of Agrimetrics, one of four UK government-backed agricultural innovation centers, expressed his disappointment: “Hacking into one tractor, you can upset a farmer and maybe damage their profitability for a season.” He added, “hacking into a fleet of tractors, suddenly, you’ve got the power to affect the yield in whole areas of the country.”
Meanwhile, even standard farm machinery employs potentially susceptible technologies out in the fields. Richard Heady, a cattle and arable farmer in Buckinghamshire who uses a GPS locating device to guide his tractor said: “Everything is so interlinked now, just by bringing down one system it can stop deliveries coming to us or stop tractors moving at all. If we are in a busy harvesting window we can’t just have tractors sitting around.” He added, “we have seen empty shelves because of Covid – we could see the same thing happen if we get a cyber attack.”