Growing international tensions over Russia’s growing encroachment on Ukraine seem a far cry from a prairie farming family going about their daily lives.
However, as the events of this week unfolded, it became disturbing how these seemingly disparate realities could converge.
Just when two cybersecurity experts were delivering a webinar to uplift the farmers?? Aware that Canada’s agri-food system is considered part of critical infrastructure and that this makes them targets of cybersecurity attacks, the Canadian Center for Cyber Security issued this alert.
??The Canadian Center for Cyber Security encourages the Canadian cybersecurity community ?? especially advocates of critical infrastructure networks?? to increase their awareness and protection against Russian state-sponsored cyber threats. ??
Canada’s Cyber Centre, part of the Communications Security Establishment, is aware of foreign cyber threat activity, including by Russian-backed actors, to target Canadian critical infrastructure network operators, their operational and information technologies (OT/IT). ??
There are already examples of disruption, including attacks earlier this year on global meat processing giant JBS, the Australian Wool Exchange, a US-based online farm equipment auction service and US grain buyers. At least some were linked to Russian sources.
This threat is emerging as the food system is already facing supply chain disruptions and capacity shortages largely attributable to the ongoing pandemic and weather disasters. The events of the past two years have gradually lifted the veil on the inherent vulnerabilities of the Canadian food system, including labor shortages and our reliance on just-in-time delivery systems.
Is it a coincidence that Russia chose to intervene at a time when foreign governments are preoccupied with handling the pandemic and managing the economic fallout?
While the vast majority of cyberattacks are financial in nature, there is a threat of attacks that create disruption either through breakdowns in the supply chain or by sowing uncertainty and suspicion through misinformation.
“Certainly the system as a whole, as critical infrastructure, is on the radar and is likely to experience an increased level of activity in the years to come,? said Janos Botschner, Principal Investigator of the federally funded Cybersecurity Capacity in Canadian Agriculture Initiative.
While individual farms, even the largest ones, are small potatoes compared to companies like JBS, which ultimately paid hackers $11 million, they are often the least well protected; their digital devices can serve multiple purposes in the household, such as keeping farm business records and doing homework.
Additionally, farmers are increasingly connected to larger networks through digital commerce and data capture related to precision agriculture, positioning them as a convenient backdoor.
They operate agricultural equipment connected to the manufacturer’s central network via software, which is convenient for upgrades and troubleshooting, but also a mechanism for hackers to have a broad impact.
Cybersecurity consultant Ritesh Kotak said awareness is growing as more of our daily activities take place online. Until recently, people didn’t think about cybersecurity until they had a problem.
“What companies are starting to really understand is that maybe it makes sense to make a small upfront investment, to really think about cybersecurity and its implications,” he added. he said the webinar. “So we’re starting to move from a very reactive model to a somewhat proactive model.
There are proactive steps that farmers, along with all of us, can take to reduce our risk. Most of them only cost time and intelligence.
Keep your hardware and software up to date with the latest security patches, be careful about how much personal information you share on social media, use virtual private networks (VPNs), map out how your devices servants are connected, keep a list of on-farm suppliers with whom you are digitally connected, and consider what you would do if critical farm information was unavailable to you, even temporarily.
Seek advice on how you would continue to operate your business in the event of a cyber disruption, back up critical data, and be reluctant to try to convince you to click on a link without ensuring it’s legitimate.
Our increasingly connected world underscores one of Botschner’s final points to his audience. ??We are all in the same boat.??
Laura Rance is Vice President of Content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be contacted at [email protected]