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Cybersecurity Is Crucial to Protect Food Supply

This post, “Opinion: Cybersecurity is crucial to protect food supply,” a contributed article from BlackBerry CTO Charles Eagan, was originally published in the May 27, 2023 edition of Farmers Weekly UK. Excerpted with permission – access the article and related content here).

The integration of technology in agriculture has the potential to revolutionize the industry, making it more sustainable, efficient, and profitable.

However, this increasing reliance on technology also creates new cybersecurity risks and threats that have the potential to jeopardize the entire food supply chain.

Risks from Automated Equipment

As the industry adds more internet-connected capabilities, such as automated feeding and watering equipment, autonomous soil treatment systems, or smart heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning units, it creates and exposes vulnerabilities that can be exploited by malicious actors.

For example, it is possible that outside, hostile influences could disrupt tractor GPS systems and interfere with field mapping or soil analysis records, either out of malice, with the intent to disrupt critical food supply chains, or for more strategic reasons, such as gaining a competitive advantage.

To proactively address these risks, it is critical that software manufacturers in this sector prioritize security in their products and components.

Security must be baked into every stage of this supply chain, from the farm to the supermarket.

With the threat evolving constantly, it is crucial for manufacturers in the farming industry to stay abreast of the latest security threats and vulnerabilities, and adapt their products accordingly.

One of the key challenges facing the farm-to-table industry is the complex and diverse nature of the technology being used across the board.

From connected farming equipment to large-scale refrigeration units, manufacturing plants, and huge transport fleets, every aspect of the chain presents another potential security threat.

It is essential that all endpoints are protected with the latest embedded security protocols, and that all devices are regularly updated with the latest security patches.

Cyber Protection

Additionally, there is no denying that humans are the weakest link in the cybersecurity chain, so ensuring organizations adopt best practices, such as making all passwords “long and strong”, will help guard against malicious actors.

To ensure that the food supply chain remains reliable and resilient, stakeholders must work together to share information and best practices around appropriate cybersecurity standards.

Through collaboration, they can identify potential security threats and vulnerabilities, and develop effective strategies for mitigating them.

Education is the best tool for defense, and ensuring a free flow of information spanning all manufacturers, suppliers, vendors, and users will effectively protect the food supply chain from start to finish.

As the global population continues to grow, the demand for food will only increase, making this industry a key target for cybercriminals with the potential to cause widespread disruption.

Given the potentially devastating consequences a successful cyberattack could have on food supply, it is crucial that the industry takes a proactive approach to cybersecurity, with a focus on embedding protection rather than simply reacting to threats after they occur.

Ultimately, the successful integration of technology in agriculture will depend on how well the industry can balance the benefits of these technologies with the potential risks.

Prioritising security and working together to develop effective strategies will allow the industry to continue to meet the growing demand for food, while ensuring the safety and security of the global food supply chain.

Remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and one cyber breach will be much more costly than taking a proactive approach.

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Charles Eagan

About Charles Eagan

Appointed in June 2018, Charles Eagan is the Chief Technology Officer for BlackBerry. In this role, Charles is responsible for the advancement of new technologies, driving innovation within emerging markets and advancing security capabilities that leverage AI and Machine Learning. He is also responsible for technology partnerships and overseeing the standardization and integration of all company products with an emphasis on helping drive BlackBerry’s Internet of Things platform.