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StormShield scopes out cyber-threats to food industry systems

StormShield’s digital manager Victor Poitevin has warned that the global agrifoods industry — increasingly reliant on automation — must face the risk of targeted cyber attacks.

Poitevin pointed out that attacks on the industry are rising. Early in 2021 saw French firms Lactalis and Laurent Perrier as well as US brewing giant Molson Coors hit, for example, with more happening as the year unfolded.

This is partly reflecting increased connectivity in the sector, he said.

“Farms are embracing the concept of ‘precision’ agriculture, while food factories are using highly automated processing and production lines,” he explained in a StormShield blog post.

However, warnings that more attacks are imminent, even amid an atmosphere of increasing cyberattack across many industries, have been largely “drowned out” in the focus on Covid, Poitevin said.

As far back as July 2020, the US’s National Security Agency (NSA) and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) recommended that industries including food-and-drink reduce their exposure via remote management tools.

“This recommendation referred in particular to all old-generation operational tech (OT), especially ICS/SCADA systems, which are the most commonly used monitoring systems in food processing plants and must therefore be protected,” Poitevin said.

The NSA and CISA pointed to assorted attack methods — including spear-phishing the IT to then infiltrate OT production networks and attempts to take advantage of failures to properly authenticate users.

“Attacker methodologies are now more complex than mere random and pre-scheduled releases. The result: more sophisticated, targeted and devious cyberattacks that have seriously impacted the agrifood industry,” Poitevin said.

He added that experts have expressed alarm at the vulnerability of UK agrifoods supply chains. A targeted cyberattack on one link in the supply chain could disrupt the entire industry.

“Part of the answer lies in network segmentation and Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) and Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) technologies,” he said.

Poitevin said agribusinesses need to implement combinations of these cybersecurity mechanisms to reduce risk of attack via privilege escalation or malware installation.

( Photo by NOAA on Unsplash )

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