Why cybersecurity is critical to food security

IoT makes planting, irrigation, and harvesting easier but it also puts our farms within the reach of cyber terrorists who can hold our farms and our food hostage more easily.
5 March 2018

IoT is expected to help us lead more sustainable lives and undertake the significant task of feeding more than 7.5 billion people on the planet. Source: Shutterstock

The rising adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) has made it easier for farmers and agriculturists to understand, implement, and rely on ‘connected farming’ techniques and ‘smart farming’ methods.

However, like all other devices that access the cyberspace, these agriculture-enhancing devices are also exposed to cyberthreats. And just as they allow farmers to monitor their fields for soil health, humidity, and moisture to control when and how the crops are fed – they also provide hackers with access to the same information.

IoT is expected to help us lead more sustainable lives on the planet and undertake the significant task of feeding more than 7.5 billion people on the planet.

By 2050, there are expectations that the global population will reach 9.7 billion, which will require massive efforts to boost food production levels by 70 percent – which is where IoT in agritech comes in.

With the world population to hit 9.7 billion by 2050, IoT in agriculture is no longer a ‘want’ but a ‘need’. Source: Shutterstock

Agritech powered by IoT can help allocate resources more effectively for the highest impact, while also reducing our carbon footprint in the world. An independent research project commissioned by Inmarsat found that agritech has seen some of the highest IoT adoption levels in a cross-industry survey, outpacing mining, transport and energy.

The Internet of Things (IoT) devices could help us grow food more rapidly and waste fewer resources. Source: Shutterstock

“Agritechs are already proving a boon for farmers, deploying technologies like IoT to help them speed up the journey that food takes from ‘seed to bin’ and from ‘farm to fork’,” said Chris Harry-Thomas, director of Inmarsat’s sector development agriculture department.

“IoT technologies are being leveraged to automate irrigation and fertilization systems on farms, to add new precision to operations and reduce waste, and to automate farming machinery, reducing the need for manual intervention.”

However, with widespread tech comes the challenge of defending against the rising tide of cyber-based attacks that are speeding up all over the world in various industries.

According to the “Future of IoT in Enterprise – 2017” study, though around 54 percent of surveyed enterprises have already implemented IoT or are in the midst of doing so, only 23 percent are totally confident of the ability of their security systems to defend against encroaching security threats.

IoT adoption in agriculture is fast but not many are confident their systems are secure. Source: Shutterstock

“These threats are not trivial. Whereas an industrial-scale cyber attack in any industry can do significant harm to a business’s bottom line, such an attack in the agricultural sector could see whole crops decimated and have severe consequences for the quality of life of entire populations,” said Harry-Thomas.

“It’s therefore critical that agritech businesses can take the necessary measures to counter these risks, and it’s clear from our research that there is a significant amount of room for improvement in this area.”

According to the report, two key areas that needed to be improved to counter the occurrence of cyberattacks in the industry were network protections and demand of cybersecurity skills. Only 42 percent of surveyed said that “special consideration” had been given to the development of their IoT solutions.

Meanwhile, almost half (47 percent) of respondents said that they lacked the skills necessary to deploying IoT effectively, meaning that these systems are running largely understaffed. Over half (55 percent) of respondents said they needed additional support for their cybersecurity solutions.