Cyber security – the time to act is now

05.07.21

Australia’s rural industries have already faced two significant cyber attacks in the past 12 months alone – is agriculture becoming a top cyber target, and are we prepared?

That’s a question the new AgriFutures Australia report by BDO explores, commissioned to identify rural industries’ cyber security vulnerabilities and to provide information on appropriate responses for producers, industry and agribusinesses of all sizes.

All businesses will, at some point, experience some form of cyber attack, whether it’s a simple email attempting to launch a virus or a sophisticated malware attack attempting to steal information to disrupt business operations.

The BDO report, Cyber security threats – are we prepared? found that agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries need to proactively manage their cyber security. For many producers, simple solutions such as automatic software updates, antivirus software and multi-factor authentication are all that is needed. Sophisticated, digitally-enabled businesses, such as intensive farm operations and automated farming systems, may need more complex security in place.

Rural industries now rely on technology and innovation systems at unprecedented levels, and today almost every producer will use some form of technology, such as a mobile phone or laptop, to do business. In the last decade agtech investment has surged, with over US$6.7 billion invested in the last five years alone, including over US$1.9 billion in the last 18 months.

John Borchi, Partner, Cyber Security at BDO Australia, said rural businesses are now in a similar position to where the health system was five years ago, where the digitisation of patient records resulted in them becoming a prime target for cyber criminals.

“The health sector saw the risk that came with digitisation of records and moved to rapidly improve and standardise cyber security risks. This included allocating sufficient funds and focusing on the fundamentals of cyber security, whilst outsourcing functions that could not be performed in-house,” said Mr Borchi.

“Australia’s rural industries are at the beginning of the cyber security journey. In recent years there has been a rapid uptake of technology, and with this, an increased risk of digital attacks. Now is the time for industries to act.”

The cyber security survey conducted in early 2021 as a part of this research showed:
• The average confidence and understanding of cyber security and risk was 3.5 out of 5.
• Only 16% of respondents had an incident response plan in place.

AgriFutures Australia’s Manager, National Rural Issues, Georgina Townsend recognises how important it is to support the agricultural sector to identify cyber vulnerabilities and take swift action to remedy any weaknesses.

“Cyber security threats on farm can be far reaching and span personal privacy, sensitive farm information, and even IP related to skills, knowledge and data from farming systems,” said Ms Townsend.

“The 2020 malware attack that shut down Australian and New Zealand wool sales and the 2021 cyber attack on global meat processing giant, JBS, are two high profile incidents that have cost the Australian agricultural sector dearly.

“Rural industries need to understand their own cyber fragility and prepare accordingly. This latest research aims to arm rural business with practical solutions so producers can continue to access the technologies that deliver important gains for their operations.”

Find out what your rural business can do to manage cyber security risk. The report Cyber security threats – are we prepared? and associated fact sheets are available via the AgriFutures Australia website: agrifutures.com.au/cyber-security-threats