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The Last Word
Down on the Farm

Cybercriminals are harvesting a new target sector: farmers and connected farming equipment.
  • Lori Chordas
  • October 2019
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Last year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned the agricultural community about the rising threat of cyberattacks.

The growing use of connected farming equipment and internet of things technologies such as remote sensors and global-position sensors are attracting the attention of cybercriminals in search of livestock, crop yield and other data generated by those devices.

The days of farmers manually tilling their crops and driving their tractors through the fields has largely been replaced with precision agriculture, or new technologies such as robotics, autonomous vehicles and telematics to increase crop yields and profitability, said Anthony Dagostino, Lockton's global cyber and technology practice lead.

Today, more than half of farmers use precision agriculture, commonly called precision ag. By 2025, the global precision ag market is set to grow to $10.23 billion, according to a Grand View Research study.

While connected devices and predictive analytics software are changing the way farmers and agricultural businesses operate, they're also increasing their risk of malware, spear phishing or ransomware attacks or equipment hacking schemes that can render connected technologies useless or disrupt food production and processing.

There are a number of safeguards farmers and agribusinesses can take to protect against cyber-related exposures, including hiring third-party consultants to examine their protocols, installing virus protection software, changing default passwords on connected equipment and software and purchasing cyber and other insurance policies that cover cybertheft by digital or data means.

Hartford Steam Boiler recently launched a commercial farm cyber insurance coverage that covers the loss of income and costs of restoring data and systems following a data breach, computer attack, cyberextortion or misdirected payment fraud. It also covers a farm family against identity theft, online fraud, cyberbullying and damage from attacks on the family's computer systems and connected home devices.

The cyber coverage is available as an endorsement or can be bundled with Hartford Steam Boiler's farm equipment breakdown insurance, said James Hajjar, who leads the company's cyber practice for reinsurance clients.

Those in the agricultural industry are often unaware of the cyberrisks they face, said Casey Roberts, principal and founder of Laurus Insurance Consulting in Lincoln, California. “Typically, farmers don't hold as much personal identifiable information as other industries, so many believe they're immune from a cyberattack,” he said.

However, hackers fail to look at those events as a targeted attack. “They're trolling the internet for system weaknesses,” Lockton's Dagostino said. “Any kind of operation with internet connectivity—big or small—is a potential target for hackers. This is especially true for hacktivists who may target farmers based on environmental concerns in order to disrupt for their own cause. If the farmers lose the ability to access systems they could have a difficult time managing their operations,” he said.

So far the agricultural industry has not seen many losses generated from cyberattacks. But industry experts fear that could soon change.

Last year, more than 2 million cyber incidents generated more than $45 billion in losses, according to Internet Society's Online Trust Alliance. Global cybercrime costs could top $6 trillion annually by 2021, according to Cybersecurity Ventures.

 

Lori Chordas is a senior associate editor. She can be reached at lori.chordas@ambest.com.


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