Precision Ag’s Potential Bugs

Aug 16, 2022

University of Nebraska-Omaha professors are turning up the heat on the ag industry for turning a cold shoulder to cyber security.

In a widely shared POV, they point out that the ever-increasing adoption of precision ag opens the door to attacks on farm equipment that would disrupt food production.

Not New News: Cyberattacks in the ag industry may not make headlines, but they’re happening. In 2021, a ransomware attack held 1/5 of U.S. beef processing plants hostage. Individual farms could be targets, too—exploiting anything from GPS guidance to artificial intelligence systems.

The Department of Homeland Security’s 2018 report on Threats to Precision Agriculture points to risks such as data and resource theft, reputation loss, or equipment destruction as threats to precision ag.

Hot Cold Topic: In an industry that already deals with a lot of bugs—literally—threats related to precision ag may not feel like an immediate problem to solve. The USDA also long-classified cybersecurity as a low priority before upgrading it in 2015.

Rewind: Back in 1997, farmers responding to an Iowa State study said they expected overall risk in agriculture to increase. Researchers wondered whether precision ag technology could help producers manage risk, though they noted that “the best precision farming data if left unanalyzed or mismanaged can have disastrous results.”

Where this goes: University of Nebraska researchers from Omaha and Lincoln launched the Security Testbed for Agricultural Vehicles and Environments. The POV authors called on manufacturers and industry organizations to prioritize engineering equipment to proactively plan for cybersecurity issues.