FBI warns farmers their crop databases are in danger

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As if drought, floods and insects weren't enough, U.S. farmers should also be on guard against a brewing threat to data from cyber thieves and opportunists.

In a March 31 note to the farming industry posted on the Public Intelligence site, the FBI and the Agriculture Department said aggregated farm-level data -- which is used to track and anticipate crop availability, pricing analysis and past yields -- could be stolen and used to exploit agricultural resources and market trends.

To reduce costs and increase crop yield, precision farming methods gather information from a variety of sources, including databases on soil analysis and past crop yields and satellite and drone imagery of crop conditions.

The FBI said the data could be targeted by the growing scourge of ransomware attacks and hacktivists intent on stopping genetically modified crops.

As an example of the potential impact, the FBI cited a contest last January sponsored by USDA and Microsoft. The company hosted 100 years' worth of public climate and crop data so that competitors worldwide could design data visualization tools for farmers. The winning tool allows users to follow trends in local crop availability and prices.

The contest's goal was to explore how to render big data into a tool that allows farmers to make decisions that affect the food supply. In light of such a wide-ranging impact, the FBI said farmers, like their counterparts in the critical infrastructure industry, should make sure the companies that manage and host their data have effective cybersecurity measures in place.

The FBI also recommended that farmers follow the standard cyber hygiene practices practiced in other sectors, such as tracking employee logins, using two-factor authentication, monitoring unusual traffic and blocking unknown IP addresses.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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