The widespread use of smart technologies is increasing global agricultural production, but international researchers warn that this digital-age phenomenon may yield a crop of a different kind: cybersecurity attacks. A new article in the open access journal Sensors highlights the risks associated with complex IT and math modeling at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia, Aix-Marseille University in France, and Flinders University in South Australia.
“Smart sensors and systems are used to monitor crops, plants, the environment, water, soil moisture, and diseases,” says lead author Professor Abel Alahmadi of King Abdulaziz University. “The transition to digital agriculture would improve the quality and quantity of food for the world’s growing population, which is expected to reach 10.9 billion by 2100.”
As evidenced by cyber-attacks on a US watering system, a meatpacking company, wool broker software, and an Australian beverage company, digital agriculture is not immune to cyber-attacks. Side-channel attack refers to the extraction of cryptographic or sensitive information from the operation of physical hardwareProfessor David Glynn
Researchers warn that advances in production, genetic modification for drought-resistant crops, and other technologies are vulnerable to cyber-attack, particularly if the ag-tech sector does not take adequate precautions in the same way that other corporate or defense sectors do.
According to Dr. Saeed Rehman of Flinders University, the rise of internet connectivity and smart low-power devices has facilitated the digitalization of many labor-intensive food production jobs, such as modern techniques for accurate irrigation, soil, and crop monitoring using drone surveillance.
“However,” says Dr. Rehman, an expert in cybersecurity and networking, “we should not overlook security threats and vulnerabilities to digital agriculture, particularly possible side-channel attacks specific to ag-tech applications.”
“As evidenced by cyber-attacks on a US watering system, a meatpacking company, wool broker software, and an Australian beverage company, digital agriculture is not immune to cyber-attacks. Side-channel attack refers to the extraction of cryptographic or sensitive information from the operation of physical hardware” Professor David Glynn, a Flinders University co-author, adds.
“These attacks could be easily carried out with physical access to devices, which the cybersecurity community has not explicitly investigated.”
The researchers recommend investment into precautions and awareness about the vulnerabilities of digital agriculture to cyber-attack, with an eye on the potential serious effects on the general population in terms of food supply, labour and flow-on costs.