Cybercrime groups have recently turned their attention to agriculture. Multiple supply chains including beef, wool and dairy have all sustained cyber attacks in the past 18 months and these instances only continue to grow.
At the end of May meat processing giant, JBS, fell victim to a ransomware attack by “REvil”, a Russian-based cybercrime syndicate. Worldwide operations ground to a halt, with Australian abattoir workers and cattle farmers being thrown into disarray during the five-day shutdown.
On June 10, JBS confirmed that it paid a ransom in bitcoin amounting to $14.2 million to end the attack on its global operations and ensure no sensitive data was released. JBS is just one of multiple companies that have paid out millions of dollars to criminals, and according to market experts, it is setting a dangerous precedent.
The cyber attacks
Most cybercrime groups use ransomware attacks; this typically involves hackers locking up IT systems by encrypting data and demanding a large ransom to release it. Lately, a new trend has emerged with gangs gaining access to sensitive data or documents and threatening to release it if the ransom is not paid.
In 2020, the wool industry suffered a ransomware attack on a pivotal trading platform used to buy and sell wool. The software, which is used by 75% of Australian and New Zealand wool brokers, was rendered inoperable for eight days.
Dairy and alcohol
Lion Dairy and Drinks was thrown into disarray by a similar attack in 2020. Lion is the largest beer brewer in Australia and many of their clients were hit hard as coronavirus restrictions began to ease, with many pubs and venues unable to restock. The company was forced to adopt manual processes in the interim while it recovered from the attack.
These cyber attacks are not just inconvenient, many cost companies millions of dollars and threaten supply chains. IBM reported that the global average cost of a data breach in 2020 was $3.86 million. A month ago, one of America’s major fuel pipeline operators paid $5.6 million in ransom to cybercrime group “DarkSide”.
Colonial Pipeline, a service that is responsible for delivering 45% of the fuel consumed on America’s east coast, suffered one of the worst cyber attacks to date on US infrastructure. The pipeline was forced to close its operations for six days as a precaution but eventually confirmed they paid the ransom as large-scale fuel shortages threw many states into chaos.
How blockchain can help secure supply chains
How can agribusiness – and industries in general – defend themselves from increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks? Blockchain offers many answers to current cybersecurity challenges as cornerstones of the technology are ideal in defending IT systems from attack.
Many companies use a centralised medium for data storage. This means a hacker only has to exploit one point of vulnerability to gain access to an entire system that houses sensitive data like financial records or internal communications.
By using blockchain, a company can store its data in a decentralised manner.
ABC cited comments from the director of the Monash Blockchain Technology Centre, Associate Professor Joseph Liu.
According to Liu, the decentralised nature of blockchain makes it harder to hack.
“This is a brand new idea different from the traditional cloud-server-based model,” he said.
“It is a distributed trust system, so for the hacker, it is very difficult to launch an attack to the blockchain system instead of the current cloud-server-based model.
The immutable and decentralised nature of blockchain makes it hard for hackers to tamper with data. The combination of cryptography and sequential hashing, along with its decentralised structure assures users about the integrity of the data.
There are additional consensus protocols that can also be implemented, meaning that approved users need to agree to a transaction before it is added to the blockchain.
Many agribusinesses now use IoT (internet of things) devices across properties to monitor data like soil moisture, livestock health, dam levels, fencing, vehicles and weather. Data is measured remotely and updates are provided in real-time to the farmer. While these devices are incredibly useful, a lot have unreliable security features.
Instances of cyber criminals gaining access to entire systems through penetrating IoT devices such as thermostats or sensors are increasing.
According to Joseph Pindar, co-founder of the Trusted IoT Alliance, blockchain can improve the intelligence and responsiveness of IoT devices. Blockchain enables device networks to form a group consensus about what constitutes normal behaviour and quarantine any nodes acting suspiciously.
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