Agriculture—or the science or practice of farming—has long surpassed the fairy-tale vision of hay bales, seasonal harvesters, and horse-drawn wagons. It’s likely that any romantics out there can still stumble across sheepdogs herding, maidens milking, and warm jumpers spun from the wool of the land—but there’s no getting away from just how technology-driven and machine-reliant the farming industry has become. Now fuelled by Artificial Intelligence (AI) instead of just gasoline, the business of agriculture has transitioned into one of the largest and most diverse industries in the world.
This sizeable operation, and all that it encompasses, can sometimes feel limitless, from crops and livestock production (better known as the food that we eat) to the management of soil condition and the impacts of the weather on crop growth. Now, if we engage our minds with everything 21st century, we can contemplate machines of a great magnitude that can be used to harvest crops and cultivate land, not to mention the agricultural robots and drones needed to support them, the AI-based monitoring equipment, and the ongoing need for coping security.
Tech Use In The Industry And The Benefits
The concept of Precision Agriculture—a word that describes everything the industry relies upon to make improving farming practices by increasing efficiency through the use of GPS-based soil sampling, GPS-guidance, and various robotics, drones, systems, sensors, telematics, and software. There are now many tech-based components related to farming success, further demonstrated by Hexa Reports recent statement suggesting Precision Agriculture will likely grow to more than 43 billion by 2025. Not bad for a notion that came to life less than 30 years ago.
As the farming industry continues to embrace new-fangled digital technology into its farming production space, threats to precision agriculture are more than a concern. Precision Agriculture uses multiple technologies that depend on interactive systems, remote sensing, and world-wide positioning to generate data on mass, used for both analysis and to feed AI. These technologies allow farm workers to accurately manage the precise application of fertilizer, pesticides, and seeds—subsequently reducing spends and increasing revenue, but they also increase exposure to cyber attacks.
Data privacy is a big concern for farmers, who often hold large amounts of data related to things like the health of their herds, land prices, profits, and expenses. Loss or abuse of this information, as is the case with most industries, can hugely impact a farmer’s finances, reputation, and mental wellbeing. The agricultural industry measures threats in three waves:
- threats to confidentiality
- threats to integrity
- threats to availability
There are some major confidentiality-based threats in the farming industry that include the accidental leakage or deliberate theft of data—usually through Decision Support Systems (DSS)—the intentional misuse of information, such as unauthorized publishing, and foreign access to unmanned data—along with the corrupt selling of it once stolen.
And then there are threats to integrity, with common themes of data hacks that falsify information and cause disruption to crops or livestock. These threats also introduce rogue data into networks and can then have the power to significantly damage crops or herds.
To add to this challenge, agricultural-based AI methods are currently being tested and, as such, can present algorithm-based immaturity which currently can (and does) have adverse effects on the industry. Senior analysts in the field suggest that over time, the direct consequences will be better understood, and reassuringly, while AI continues to learn.
Without machine-based equipment, farming and livestock operations would come to a standstill. While threats to the availability of machinery can be a direct result of natural disasters, cyber-related issues are this century’s growing cause. Losing the availability of equipment without prior notification—and let’s face it, no cyber-crime is going to call you in advance to make you aware of their intentions and potential consequences—massively impacts timing in relation to crop planting and harvesting and disrupts space-based and ground-based positioning of crops—directly affecting growth rate and crop quality. And unreliable communication networks that result in poor connection availability can be an additional challenge for farm workers.
Best Prevention Measures
Threats to farming technologies are pretty exclusive to their industry, but it’s fair to say threat mitigation procedures remain consistent with those across other sectors, as is advised by solid security practitioners. Attention should be placed on the protection of both hardware and software, the segregation of operations on to separate platforms, the understanding of internal limits and controls, and the close monitoring of both incoming and outgoing data.
So, for the visionaries amongst you, it’s all eyes on robotic milking technologies, radio frequency ear tags, and sensors that track food consumption, temperature, movement, and milk production. Let’s hope we are all fortunate enough to witness these modern advancements while still surrounded by the beauty of a bucolic farming scene, sheep-dogs and all.