The wide-ranging use of smart technologies is boosting global agricultural production, but international researchers warn that this digital age phenomenon could yield another kind of crop. Cybersecurity attacks can take the food crisis to a whole new level.
Complex IT and mathematical modeling at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia, University of Aix-Marseille, Flinders University in France and South Australia highlighted these risks in a new paper in the open access journal Sensors. "Smart sensors and systems are used to monitor plants, the environment, water, soil moisture and diseases," says lead author Professor Abel Alahmadi of King Abdulaziz University.
“The transition to digital agriculture will improve the quality and quantity of food for the ever-growing human population projected to reach 2100 billion by 10,9.” The researchers warn that this advance in production, genetic modification for drought-tolerant crops and other technologies is prone to cyberattack.
They indicate the possibility of encountering global problems, especially if companies in the network-technology sector or defense sectors do not take adequate measures.
Flinders University researcher Dr. Saeed Rehman says the rise of internet connectivity and smart low-power devices has made it easier for many labor-intensive food manufacturing jobs to shift into the digital realm.
These include modern techniques for accurate irrigation, soil and crop monitoring using drone surveillance.
The rapidly changing world of agriculture
Today's farming operations look quite different from even a few decades ago. New technology has allowed growers today to optimize every part of their operation, from field spraying to growing cycles and crop health.
Much of this transformation can be attributed to drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). With an agricultural drone, farmers get new tools that can perform physical work as well as in-depth data analysis and mission planning.
Whether you're an independent farmer or the leader of a larger organization, drone technology can help you exceed your harvesting goals and get more crops with less resources. The two main ways that accurate UAV and payload can help are efficient crop spraying and field mapping.
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Cybersecurity and networking expert Dr. “However, we should not ignore the security threats and vulnerabilities to digital agriculture, particularly potential attacks specific to ag-technology applications,” says Rehman.
“Digital farming is not immune to cyberattacks, as seen with interference with a US irrigation system, a meatpacking firm, wool broker software, and an Australian beverage company.”
"Extracting cryptographic or sensitive information from the operation of physical hardware is called a side-channel attack," adds Flinders co-author Professor David Glynn.
“These attacks can easily be carried out with physical access to devices that the cybersecurity community has not explicitly investigated.”
Researchers recommend investing in precautions and awareness about digital agriculture's vulnerability to cyberattack, noting the potential serious impacts on the general population in terms of food supply, labor and flow costs.