Cyberattacks threaten digital agriculture, reseachers warn

02-06-2022 | |
Photo: Canva
Photo: Canva

Digital agriculture is is prone to cyberattacks – particularly if the ag-tech sector doesn’t take adequate precautions like other corporate or defence sectors, researchers warn.

Complex IT and math modelling at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia, Aix-Marseille University, France and Flinders University in South Australia, has highlighted the risks in a new article in the open access journal Sensors.

Flinders University researcher Dr Saeed Rehman says the rise of internet connectivity and smart low-power devices has facilitated the shift of many labour-intensive food production jobs into the digital domain – including modern techniques for accurate irrigation, soil and crop monitoring using drone surveillance.

Side-channel attacks

“However, we should not overlook security threats and vulnerabilities to digital agriculture, in particular possible side-channel attacks specific to ag-tech applications,” says Dr Rehman, an expert in cybersecurity and networking.

Also read: AI in agriculture comes with substantial risks, warn researchers

According to Dr Rehman, digital agriculture is not immune to cyberattack, as seen by interference to a US watering system, a meatpacking firm, wool broker software and an Australian beverage company.

“Extraction of cryptographic or sensitive information from the operation of physical hardware is termed side-channel attack,” adds Flinders co-author Professor David Glynn.

According to Professor Glynn these attacks could be easily carried out with physical access to devices, which the cybersecurity community has not explicitly investigated.

Investment into precautions and awareness

The researchers recommend investment into precautions and awareness about the vulnerabilities of digital agriculture to cyberattack, with an eye on the potential serious effects on the general population in terms of food supply, labour and flow-on costs.

Are we giving enough credence to how vulnerable our food and farming technologies are to nefarious actors? Or are we taking digital security for granted?

Hugo Claver Web editor for Future Farming