Cyber threats in rural industries – are we prepared?

18.02.21

Digital technologies are everywhere – from helping farmers regulate water use and track soil moisture, remotely control irrigation pumps, help collect and manage genetic information in livestock or drive autonomous and GPS guided machinery, to name just a few. With these technologies comes risk. As rural industries’ reliance on technology, data and information sharing grows, so does the likelihood of potentially devastating cyber attacks.

Imagine plausible scenarios where an activist breaks into a remote water sensing system and shuts it down, a farmer loses access to years of production data stored on the family computer or privacy breaches result in legal proceedings from stolen sensitive personal information on farmers’ employees. Even a short outage can result in significant business and animal welfare consequences. Adding to it the potential for data manipulation, misreporting and reputational damage – the picture is bleak.
To shed light on this potentially damaging issue and provide industry with interventions to address this increasingly sophisticated threat, AgriFutures Australia has embarked on a new project with globally-connected cyber security experts, 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). Whether you’re an established $100 million corporate farm or a new fishing business, greater awareness of potential threats is key to implementing best practice mitigation strategies and staying ahead of malicious cyber activity.

Phase one of the project is to explore the readiness levels across rural industries when it comes to securely managing data, IP and platforms. To achieve this, BDO Australia is conducting a survey and we need producers’ help to inform the current state of play.

AgriFutures Australia Senior Manager, Rural Futures, Jennifer Medway said a cyber attack can happen in the blink of an eye as the Australian wool industry found out last year. Wool sales across Australia were shut down for over a week in February 2020 causing huge disruptions to wool producers and the market, costing the industry dearly.

“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.”

Ms Medway hopes that 12 months on we are better positioned to ask ourselves the tough questions about how prepared and resilient to cyber attacks we really are as a sector. The survey is an important step in helping answer those questions and benchmark our 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.”

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

Click here to access and complete the short survey. While responses to the survey are anonymous, participants have the option to elect to receive a free personalised report reviewing their cyber resilience and be benchmarked against peers.

The research is being undertaken by BDO Australia and funded through the AgriFutures Australia National Rural Issues program, which aims to facilitate agricultural growth by addressing current national and cross sectoral issues facing the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector.