A research paper by Tzachor, et al, warns that the future use of artificial intelligence in agriculture comes with substantial potential risks for farms, farmers and food security that are poorly understood and under-appreciated.
“The idea of intelligent machines running farms is not science fiction. Large companies are already pioneering the next generation of autonomous ag-bots and decision support systems that will replace humans in the field,” said Dr Asaf Tzachor in the University of Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER), first author of the paper. “But so far no-one seems to have asked the question ‘are there any risks associated with a rapid deployment of agricultural AI?’”
In this paper, researchers argue that AI, though offering promising solutions to a broken food supply chain, may offer additional challenges with cyber-attackers that could shut down their facilities, use their datasets and thus affect the farmers’ harvest as well as the country’s food security. The report also demosntrates that most farmers and stakeholders are not equiped to face these new cyber-attacks.
A Month Ago, The FBI Issued A Warning Regarding Potential Cyber-Attacks
The FBI warnned a month ago agricultural cooperatives to be on high alert and take all possible precautions to safeguard their operations against cyberattackers. They did not provide exact details as to why it sent the notification on April 20th, but the agency says historically, “ransomware actors may be more likely to attack agricultural cooperatives during critical planting and harvest seasons, disrupting operations, causing financial loss and negatively impacting the food supply chain.”
The Most Recent Attack, AGCO
AGCO, a manufacturer and distributor of agricultural equipment under various brands (Challenger, Fendt, Valtra, Massey Ferguson, etc.), announced on 5 May that it had been the victim of a computer attack. This type of cyber attack aims to penetrate an information system to paralyse it by encrypting all the data on it. The hackers then offer a decryption key in exchange for a sum payable only in cryptocurrency (impossible to cancel once paid).
“Some production facilities” have been affected, the group said in its statement. As a result, “its commercial activities” will be affected “for several days and potentially longer”. An investigation is underway to determine the causes of the incident.
AGCO remains unclear about the number of sites affected by the cyber attack. According to an internal company source interviewed by France 3, sites in the United States, Germany, China and France were affected. In France, the Beauvais site in the Oise region – which houses an assembly line for Massey Ferguson tractors – was shut down on 5 May. The 1,000 employees were reportedly told to go home.
Hyper-Connected, Vertical Farms To Be Affected By Cyber-Attacks
The most recent cyber attack was French indoor farmer, Agricool which then contributed to its receivership. Indeed, in 2020, the company has been a victim of a Cyber-attack which hampered its operations and finances and led to an utlimate funding round failure.