Food Safety and Cybersecurity: 4 Things You Need to Consider

The food industry is ripe for exploitation by hackers and overseas criminal enterprises. And don’t think because you’re a smaller company or producer that you’re automatically off the radar.

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Criminal hackers increasingly  target smaller, sometimes less sophisticated operations, as potential victims, the University of Minnesota’s Food Protection and Defense Institute (FPDI) says in its latest white paper report. Even the 74% of U.S. food manufacturers and distributors that currently employ less than 20 people are at risk.

It has already happened to industries like public education and in the health sector. How this typically works is pretty simple: hackers identify a potentially vulnerable, high value data set. The hackers gain unauthorized access to the data, steal it and transfer it to their own servers. They then hold the data set ransom until company officials meet whatever financial demands the hackers are after. And oftentimes, if the data is valuable enough, the victims end up paying.

What Can Growers Do to Counter the Risk?

Agriculture thus far has been mostly spared. But it doesn’t take an MIT-educated genius to figure out that food production data could be the next target. As we all know and have heard almost ad nauseum over the years, a farmer’s data at times can be just as valuable (and in some cases more valuable) than the crop produced.

So what are food companies (and in turn the farmers that grow and harvest food at their behest) to do? FPDI has four tips to help stave off a potential hacker attack:

  1. Bridge the gap and facilitate more communication between OT (operational technology) and IT (information technology) personnel
  2. Conduct risk assessments of inventory control systems and IT systems
  3. Ensure that staff with the cybersecurity knowledge is involved in procuring and deploying inventory control system devices
  4. Incorporate cybersecurity into your food safety and food defense culture.

Want to learn more about cyber security threats to the food industry? Read the full white paper from University of Minnesota’s FPDI here.