Project to bolster agriculture sector against cyber threats

Wednesday, 24 February, 2021

Project to bolster agriculture sector against cyber threats

Digital technologies can help farmers regulate water use, track soil moisture, remotely control irrigation pumps, help collect and manage genetic information on livestock, or drive autonomous and GPS-guided machinery. However, as the rural industry’s reliance on technology, data and information sharing grows, so does the likelihood of potential cyber attacks. A short outage could result in significant business and animal welfare consequences.

To shed light on these potentially damaging issues and provide industry with interventions to address this threat, AgriFutures Australia has embarked on a new project with cybersecurity expert BDO Australia. Working in consultation with other Rural Research and Development Corporations (RDCs), the project aims to explore potential cyber threats to producers’ business data, productions systems and intellectual property (IP).

Phase one of the project aims to explore the readiness levels across rural industries when it comes to securely managing data, IP and platforms. To do this, BDO Australia will conduct a survey, with producers helping to inform the current state of play.

AgriFutures Australia Senior Manager (Rural Futures) Jennifer Medway said a cyber attack can occur rapidly, citing an incident in the Australian wool industry in February 2020. Wool sales across Australia were shut down for over a week, causing disruptions to wool producers and the market and costing the industry.

“More than 75% of wool sold across Australia and New Zealand relied on a single platform which fell victim to a malicious ransomware attack. While targeted at one industry in this case, a reliance on IT systems is a vulnerability all industries face,” said Medway.

Medway said she hopes that 12 months on, the industry is better placed to ask itself tough questions about how prepared and resilient to cyber attacks it really is. The survey is an important step in helping to answer these questions and benchmark progress.

“Producers are key to collectively getting our heads around cyber risks and we strongly encourage anyone linked to agriculture, fisheries and forestry to take part in the survey. Rural industries need to understand and take ownership of their cyber fragility,” said Medway.

While producers’ responses to the survey are anonymous, participants have the option to receive a free personalised report reviewing their cyber resilience and be benchmarked against peers.

“Knowing where you stand, and what you need to do to protect your IP, systems and data, is just good business,” said Medway.

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