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International experts forecast food cyber risks for ag-tech

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Flinders University has highlighted cybersecurity risks in using smart ag-tech in partnership with King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia, and Aix-Marseille University in France, conducted via complex IT and math modelling. 

“Smart sensors and systems are used to monitor crops, plants, the environment, water, soil moisture, and diseases,” King Abdulaziz University lead author Professor Abel Alahmadi said. 

“The transformation to digital agriculture would improve the quality and quantity of food for the ever-increasing human population, which is forecast to reach 10.9 billion by 2100.”  

This progress in production, genetic modification for drought-resistant crops, and other technologies is prone to cyber-attack – particularly if the ag-tech sector doesn’t take adequate precautions like other corporate or defence sectors, researchers warn.  

Flinders University researcher Dr Saeed Rehman says the rise of internet connectivity and smart low-power devices has facilitated the shift of many labour-intensive food production jobs into the digital domain – including modern techniques for accurate irrigation, soil and crop monitoring using drone surveillance. 

“However, we should not overlook security threats and vulnerabilities to digital agriculture, in particular possible side-channel attacks specific to ag-tech applications,” Rehman said.  

“Digital agriculture is not immune to cyber-attack, as seen by interference to a US watering system, a meatpacking firm, wool broker software and an Australian beverage company.” 

According to Flinders University co-author Professor David Glynn, a side-channel attack, which extracts cryptographic or sensitive information from physical hardware operation, could easily be carried out. 

“These attacks could be easily carried out with physical access to devices, which the cybersecurity community has not explicitly investigated,” Glynn said. 

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.  

The article, Cyber-Security Threats and Side-Channel Attacks for Digital Agriculture (2022) by Adel N Alahmadi, Saeed Ur Rehman, Husain S Alhazmi, David G Glynn, Hatoon Shoaib and Patrick Solé (Aix-Marseille University, France) has been published in Sensors.

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