Technology and Farming: Why Hackers Target Agricultural Tech

Reader Contribution by Kayla Matthews
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Photo by Johny Goerend on Unsplash

Agricultural enterprises that implement various forms of agricultural technology, or ag-tech, are especially vulnerable to potential hacking. As an industry, agriculture may be more susceptible to hackers because many new technologies lack adequate safety measures.

Additionally, a great deal of technology is brand new or only a few years old, and farmers may not be fully aware of the possible threats. Data breaches are a number one concern, though other issues — especially in artificial intelligence (AI) systems or smart sensors — present a significant problem.

Small farms and homesteads may be particularly susceptible to security breaches. More substantial corporations are more likely to have additional security measures in place and possess the capacity to work with third-party systems that ensure quality protection. Smaller enterprises, on the other hand, may lack the resources to set up technological defenses in their day-to-day operations.

Hackers appear to be drawn to ag-tech because it involves newer technology with limited security in place. Farm businesses are also increasing the amount of technology they employ at a shocking rate, with many changes seemingly occurring overnight. The quick implementation of new practices may increase the susceptibility of the farming system as a whole.

Lack of Security

The potential for cyberattacks in farming has increased in the last few years. The primary motivation for hacking ag-tech is the lack of online security across the agricultural industry. From farms with unprotected Wi-Fi networks to distribution centers without encrypted cloud storage, agriculture is vulnerable to potential attacks. 

Ag-tech implementation is increasingly widespread throughout both large and small operations. The potential for breaches and manipulation increases as farm businesses become increasingly dependent on data. A farming tech hack could leave the farmer susceptible to losing essential data regarding soil health, crop yields and irrigation scheduling. 

Data-Driven Systems

Small farms and homesteads are increasingly utilizing digital software, ranging from online management systems to smart sensors for irrigation. Cyber attacks in farming are not limited to large corporations and agribusinesses. While many smaller operations do not necessarily practice precision agriculture, an increasing number of farm businesses are relying on a data-driven system. 

A growing number of organic farms in the United States are relying on ag-tech to improve crop production and reduce input costs. Using software that streamlines data collection is a positive development, but many of these digital tools lack adequate protection. 

For example, an asparagus farm in California installed a solar-powered sensor to collect data on soil conditions to reduce water usage. This technology allowed them to double their harvest while reducing water usage by 750,000 gallons. However, this software requires using a secure network to send data remotely. If there was any disruption in that network, the farm could lose essential information integral to the crop’s success.

IoT Technology 

Hand in hand with data-driven software is the Internet of Things-based (IoT) technology that accompanies it. Most people don’t think of small farms and homesteads as employing IoT technology, but the practice is increasingly widespread. IoT on a farm can range from autonomous tractors and grain combines to smart greenhouses and irrigation systems.

Large farms with thousands of acres of commodity crops or massive dairy operations with robotic milkers tend to rely on IoT technology. However, small farms also rely on IoT devices to more efficiently gather relevant data, such as information from soil sensors or Global Positioning System (GPS) mapping.

IoT technology presents a particular vulnerability when it comes to hackers and ag-tech. Business Insider Intelligence projects the number of IoT device installations to grow by 20% annually over the next few years. This technology aids small farmers and homesteaders in more efficient growing systems, but it also leaves them more vulnerable. For example, if production or pest control processes are entirely automated, someone hacking the system can ruin the entire growing season. 

Hackers and Ag-Tech

A traditionally low-tech industry has recently employed a vast amount of software to run daily operations. There is always innovation in agriculture, but the recent pace of technological development may outpace the security measures that ensure success.

Cyber attacks in farming are a potential issue due to the widespread installation of new systems without adequate precautions. Small farms and homesteads are susceptible to losing valuable data related to crop production, soil health or overall operations. Data breach impacts a farm’s privacy and their trust in a data-driven methodology. 

Ag-tech may leave farmers more susceptible to hacking. Cyber attacks are increasingly problematic as farm businesses rely on data-driven systems and IoT technology. To protect valuable information, small farms and homesteaders must be proactive in establishing security criteria that may prevent a potential cyber attack.

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living, sustainable consumption, eco-friendly practices and green energy. In the past, her work has also been featured on GRIT, Mother Earth Living, Blue And Green Tomorrow, Dwell and Houzz. To read more from Kayla, follow her productivity and lifestyle blog, Productivity Theory, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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