Hacking agricultural machinery to cripple agriculture, a threat to food security

He testifies anonymously. A hacker – known as “Sick Codes” and claiming to be an “ethical” hacker – tells reporters at the BBC (5/20/2022) his fears about computer-driven agriculture. According to him, experienced hackers could exploit loopholes in the agricultural equipment used in the fields.

Indeed, so-called “intelligent” technologies are increasingly used to improve the efficiency and productivity of agricultural operations: drones to monitor soil humidity, driverless tractors… The latest generation of agricultural robots is even doing call forartificial intelligenceminimizing human intervention.

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For Sick Codes, a hack of these systems would cause major disruptions in food supply chains. “This is precisely what we would like to avoid – a blockage that would take place during the most important steps, in particular sowing or harvesting. If you can’t move your tractor at that time (…), you can imagine what happens. Everything stops, the whole system“, he warns.

The hacker told the BBC that he had discovered weaknesses in the software of John Deere – one of the world’s leading manufacturers of agricultural equipment, allowing him to access company information and machine data. The hacker claims to have also found flaws in the systems of CNH Industrial, supplier of the New Holland brand.

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Manufacturers of agricultural machinery want to be reassuring despite everything, affirming that the protection of customers, their machines and their data is for them a “top priority“.

Cyberattacks to cripple agriculture

But the hacker’s words confirm fears already raised in a Cambridge University report (UK), published in February. Experts mentioned the risk of hacking automatic irrigation systems, drones, and robots used for harvesting.

In April, it is a group of official government authorities responsible for cybersecurity – including those of the United Kingdom, the United States (FBI) and theAustralia – which warned of the fact that hackers manipulated by the Russian state could target supply chains, among the vital infrastructures for Western countries.

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By hacking a tractor, you can upset a farmer and possibly hurt his profitability for a season. By hacking an entire fleet of tractors, you suddenly have the power to affect the yield of entire regions of the country“, entrusts to the BBC Benjamin Turner, chief operating officer at Agrimetrics, a UK center for agricultural innovation.

The food industry is also a victim of the use of “ransomware”, software capable of encrypting data and locking computer systems. In 2021, JBS, one of the largest meat processing companies in the world, paid an $11 million ransom to regain access to its data. This month, the largest American agricultural company, AGCO, was hit in turn by a cyberattack.

A risk that could affect agricultural production already weakened by the war in Ukraine and by the Covid.

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Hacking agricultural machinery to cripple agriculture, a threat to food security

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