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Farms Big and Small Prime Targets for Cyber Attacks

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A GPS-guided combine is one of the systems potentially vulnerable to cyber attacks. (Scoty/Wikimedia Commons)
A GPS-guided combine is one of the systems potentially vulnerable to cyber attacks. (Scoty/Wikimedia Commons)
 By Bob Kessler, Public News Service - IA, Contact
April 18, 2016

AMES, Iowa – Officials from the FBI and the Justice Department held a roundtable recently at Iowa State University, emphasizing the seriousness of cyber attacks for a surprising target – the agriculture industry.

It's a subject familiar to Larry Clinton, president of Internet Security Alliance, an information security think tank. He says many of the agriculture industry's closely held secrets are vulnerable.

"There's valuable soil and content data,” he explains. “There's GMO variables. There's pesticide and chemical formulas, genetic engineering, innovative animal breeding techniques, planting, harvesting, processing, storage, transporting. There's a lot of important business data there."

Clinton says hackers easily bypass firewalls, passwords and other typical ways of protecting data, and the agriculture industry lags behind when it comes to protecting itself.

And Clinton says it's not just big agribusiness at risk.

"Many smaller farms serve as feeders, essentially, up into the larger elements of the system, so sharing information and securing everybody is really what's necessary here," he stresses.

Clinton says trade secrets are currently the biggest risk, but cyber terrorists could one day go after data or even computer-controlled farm equipment in a way that jeopardizes the U.S. food supply.


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