Ag Community Cautioned on Cybersecurity Threats to Precision Agriculture

On October 3, 2018, US-CERT cautioned agricultural producers about “Cybersecurity Threats to Precision Agriculture.” US-CERT cited a report produced by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) about “Threats to Precision Agriculture” (PDF). The report recognizes

  • the complexity of today’s agriculture,
  • the use of potentially vulnerable embedded systems in agriculture,
  • the use of drones and similar equipment, and
  • massive amounts of data generated by agricultural systems including tracking ag product sources.

Agricultural producers suffer risks similar to any other manufacturing and production facility from cybersecurity threats. Similarly, agricultural producers need to take cybersecurity seriously including:

  • robust and tested data backups;
  • segmenting or isolating operational data, from financial data, from business operations data;
  • practicing good computer systems discipline (regular updates, limit software used, keeping current anti-malware, good password and access practices, etc.); and
  • developing an actionable cybersecurity detection and incident-response plan.

All of these preventing and mitigation measures require careful legal analysis as well as technical implementation (and relying on your whiz-kid nephew is likely not legally defensible).

The report also details a growing concern among cybersecurity and data protection attorneys—integrity of systems. In addition to data losses, data breaches and system compromises may result in extremely damaging events by disrupting the integrity of data. Imagine an undetected, long-term breach that silently alters information about soils, biocide/pesticide application rates, animal breeding, feed mixtures, or other data to the point where the data can no longer be trusted—and with serious regulatory, livestock loss, or human health consequences.  Or even more chilling, altering herbicide spraying rates destroying orchards or killing workers (or family members) or disrupting breeding programs resulting in the loss of valuable livestock or plants.

Just as with any other agricultural decision, good advice, planning, and awareness may help prevent or mitigate cybersecurity issues in agriculture.