Last March, a 'basic' phishing email shut down Australian wool sales and exposed how vulnerable our agricultural industry is to malicious cyber attacks.
A year on, that concern is there more than ever. As automation and data collection become more relied on, there is a growing concern that cyber criminals will intensify their attacks on the lucrative industry.
Taking the challenge head on, industry group AgriFutures Australia has teamed up with globally-connected cyber security experts, BDO Australia on a new project.
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).
The biggest challenge facing agriculture in a cyber-sense is just how diverse the industry is. 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 attacks.
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 is searching for producers' help to inform the current state of play.
Cyber security expert and partner with BDO, John Borchi said that cybersecurity is becoming a very prominent threat to agribusiness.
"The industry is quite new to technology, in that it is not yet a broad take up for producers," he said.
"The industry is wide, you have small, medium, large and extremely large businesses that go from one or two people, to a million dollar business.
"Having the challenge of a very broad and wide industry makes it difficult to get a real assessment on where things are."
Mr Borchi said it's important for producers to have better digital literacy and realise where technology is and what potentially sensitive data is being collected.
"One of the biggest hinderances is the language we use," he said.
"Producers and the whole supply chain can sometimes not understand that what they're using is actually technology.
"They relate it more to tools - seeing things like a tractor as just a dumb machine that operates on an engine, instead of a fully autonomous combine harvester that is using a GPS and is taking on a lot of information."
"We need to start speaking the same language and clarify a lot of what information gathering really means."
While using antivirus software, managing your passwords and avoiding suspicious websites is a start, Mr Borchi said it won't be enough to protect the industry. The cybersecurity expert recommends a risk management approach.
"The risks are growing because how reliant the industry is becoming on technology," he said.
"To manage the sophistication of who is trying to retrieve information, agribusiness needs to start doing risk management. Instead of just doing basic steps, you need to understand what your business is and what the risks are from technology."
Mr Bochi said there are a number of questions producers need to ask themselves.
"Who are your suppliers? Who are your customers? Who is in the supply chain? And what sort of risks are there dealing with those and how do you manage those risks?.
Mr Borchi warned that as more agtech is used, the more appetising the industry will become to cyber attackers.
"Cyber criminals follow wherever there is money to be made, healthcare was the most recent industry to fall victim. They started digitising patient records and globally they became the number one target for criminals."
"Healthcare providers were not very secure through that transition,
"I see agribusiness coming to that place where healthcare was five years ago."
"The reliance on technology is what criminals prey on - they try and stop access and that's how they make their money."
AgriFutures Australia Senior Manager, Rural Futures, Jennifer Medway said a cyber attack can happen in the blink of an eye, just like the wool industry found out last year.
"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. T
"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 said.
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