US Agriculture Is Under Attack | #malware | #ransomware


Commentary

The U.S. agricultural sector is under attack, and Russian operatives appear to be the aggressors.

Last month, the FBI’s cyber division published an emergency statement. Ransomware actors “may be more likely to attack agricultural cooperatives during critical planting and harvest seasons,” warned the federal investigative agency. Coordinated attacks on the agricultural sector threaten the country’s “entire food chain.”

On May 5, just a few weeks after the FBI’s warning, AGCO, one of the largest manufacturers and distributors of agricultural machinery on the planet, suffered a ransomware attack. Headquartered in Duluth, Georgia, the attack impacted its operations for several days.

Interestingly, the AGCO attack was just the latest in a long list of attacks on major, U.S.-based agri-companies. In fact, the AGCO attack was the 19th of the year. Yes, 19 attacks, and we’re only halfway through the year.

Russian Hackers

In April, the Five Eyes partnership—an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States—released a joint cybersecurity advisory warning of the dangers posed by Russian state-sponsored hackers.

According to the advisory, “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could expose organizations both within and beyond the region to increased malicious cyber activity. This activity may occur as a response to the unprecedented economic costs imposed on Russia as well as materiel support provided by the United States and U.S. allies and partners.”

They cautioned governments around the world, especially those currently supporting Ukraine, to prepare themselves for unprecedented attacks on their critical infrastructure networks.

Agriculture is an integral piece of America’s critical infrastructure. As the United States continues to give tens of billions of dollars to Ukraine, numerous authors (see here and here, for example) have wondered aloud why Russian-backed hackers have not actively targeted the country’s critical infrastructure.

Newsflash: They have. According to the National Law Review’s Kathryn Rattigan, the aforementioned attack on AGCO has all the hallmarks of a Kremlin-supported operation. As the author noted, the attack came directly after AGCO Agriculture Foundation made a $50,000 donation to the BORSCH initiative, which assists Ukrainian farmers affected by the Russian invasion. Coincidence? I think not.

In truth, Russia started attacking the United States long before the invasion of Ukraine took place. In September last year, New Cooperative, an Iowa-based grain cooperative, was targeted by BlackMatter, a Russian-backed ransomware group. The attack came at the same time farmers were preparing for the fall harvest.

Two months before the attack, President Joe Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin not to target critical sectors of the U.S. economy, including the agricultural sector. Not surprisingly, Putin didn’t listen. Why would he? After all, the United States is pumping money into Ukraine. Moreover, U.S. agriculture is an easy target. As I have stated elsewhere, on more than one occasion, the United States is ill-equipped to cope with the cyber capabilities of hackers in Russia, China, and even Iran.

As Steve Cubbage, a well-respected agri-researcher, warned back in January, U.S. agriculture has the softest of digital underbellies, one that can be “easily breached due to very limited investment in cybersecurity to date.”

As farming becomes more digital in nature, “this should set off alarm bells,” he wrote, “from the back 40 to the halls of Congress.” The most powerful country in the world cannot remain a dominant force if its digital infrastructure is nothing short of a disgrace.

A combine harvests corn near Baxter, Iowa, on Oct. 12, 2019. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The digital revolution is in full effect; automated farming machinery is already a highly-lucrative market. By 2028, according to analysts at Blue Weave Consulting, the global agricultural robots market will surpass $81 billion.

As Blue Weave noted, the United States is currently “the world’s biggest user of drones in agriculture and livestock management.” These drones are “employed in a variety of applications,” including “chemical spraying, crop monitoring, and irrigation control.”

Sadly, these unmanned aerial vehicles are easily hacked. Self-driving tractors and combine harvesters can also be hacked. In 2022, it’s important to remember the following: anything that can be hacked will be hacked. Cybercriminals are eager to exploit this industry because of its foundational importance in the U.S. economy.

Food security is not a partisan issue; it’s not political—it’s personal, deeply personal. We all need to eat. Access to food is a human right. It’s also a security issue. Agriculture and national security are inextricably linked. In 2016, John Negroponte, a former U.S. deputy secretary of state, emphasized the importance of agriculture to U.S. national security.

“Agriculture is extremely dependent on roads, rail, electricity, water, and other physical infrastructure,” said Negroponte, now a professor at the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.

“It is important for federal departments and agencies to advance further efforts to protect critical infrastructure and key resources by preventing, deterring, and mitigating deliberate efforts to destroy, incapacitate, or exploit them,” he said.

In the six years since Negroponte’s warnings, the United States has done little, if anything, to shore up its cyber defense networks and protect its agricultural sector. As digital threats evolve at breakneck speeds, the United States becomes more vulnerable to devastating attacks. The facts speak for themselves. Nineteen attacks in less than six months paint a rather disturbing picture.

A failure to act now will cost the country dearly. Make no mistake about it; the attacks will continue.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

John Mac Ghlionn

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John Mac Ghlionn is a researcher and essayist. His work has been published by the New York Post, The Sydney Morning Herald, Newsweek, National Review, and The Spectator US, among others. He covers psychology and social relations, and has a keen interest in social dysfunction and media manipulation.



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