NEFB Newspaper

Cyberattacks in agriculture

“We know how much soil moisture is in the ground. We know the production instantly. We know some of our fertility issues. All this farm data we’re collecting, we’re storing, including our market data is a commodity to cyber criminals. The truth of the matter is, there are people out there that will do whatever they can to steal that data. Cyberattacks in agriculture are real and we need to understand the risks to our farms, ranches and agribusinesses,” said McHargue.

Nebraska Farm Bureau held a news conference in Grand Island at Husker Harvest Days to shed light on cyberattacks in agriculture. During that event speakers Eugene Kowel, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Omaha office, and Doug Peterson, Nebraska’s Attorney General, talked about the potential risks to our national food supply.

“There are three things I will point out about cyber threats facing agriculture today. They include the halting of your farm and ranch operations and food processing facilities due to ransomware attacks, the theft of farm data, and the risk posed by countries like China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, implanting malware on any of our industrial control systems and halting our food production. This becomes a national security concern,” Kowel said.

As agriculture uses more technology to become more proficient in every aspect of production, it also becomes more vulnerable to cyber threats. Every farm, ranch and agribusiness in Nebraska connected to the internet is at potential risk from cyber threats. The real concern is from foreign nations, specifically the People’s Republic of China, Kowel said.

“We know that the People’s Republic of China has highlighted publicly their intention to make its own agriculture
sector more competitive. And our agriculture industry is a prime target of the Chinese government. China has stolen trillions of dollars across many different areas of sophisticated U.S. technology. And we know China wants to acquire U.S. agriculture technology and overtake U.S. agriculture companies. In recent years, we identified and indicted an executive of a company working on behalf of the People’s Republic of China, attempting to steal proprietary corn seed from a core rural field in Iowa. The threats are real,” Kowel said.

If there’s a cyber threat on your farm, ranch or agribusiness call the FBI Omaha office at 402-493-8688.

Protect your farm or ranch

The FBI offers these suggestions for any farm, ranch or agribusiness to protect themselves from cyberattacks. Learn more online at

  • Install security updates to your operating systems, as well as your software and firmware, as quickly as you can.
  • Use multi-factor authentication, which is an electronic authentication method in which a user is granted access to a website or application only after successfully presenting two or more pieces of evidence to an authentication mechanism.
  • Avoid randomly clicking links or going to unknown websites on your computer, phone or even smart TV, as that can put you at risk of covertly downloaded software intended to damage or disable your computer or other devices.
  • Making backups of collected data is critically important in data management. Backups protect against human errors, hardware failure, virus attacks, power failure and natural disasters. Keep the backed up data on a hard drive so you can quickly get back up to speed.
  • Have a cyber incident response plan for your farm, your ranch or your company and be prepared to call the FBI as quickly as you can.

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