What Does Remote Bricking of Ukrainian Tractors Mean to US Farmers?

When Russian troops stole millions of dollars of John Deere farm equipment from an authorized Deere dealer, Agrotek-Invest, in Melitopol, Ukraine, they trailered them to Checknya, about 700 miles away.

What the Russians did not know is that (a) the equipment has a GPS in it, so Deere knew exactly where they took it and (b) it also has a cell phone in it, which allowed John Deere or the dealer to turn these millions of dollars of farm equipment into paperweights. Really big paperweights.

The Russians, of course, are trying to un-brick the equipment. People have been playing a cat and mouse game with digital rights management for decades.

What we don’t know is how badly did Deere brick the stuff. Was it just shutting it off or was it like wiping it clean as in there is no software inside the equipment any more. If I was Deere, I would have picked the second option. That is much harder to bypass. Probably impossible.

Could they even intentionally damaged the equipment. Likely possible.

But, if all they did was “shut it off”, then it is possible that Russian hackers could bypass it.

But enough about Russia’s woes.

These modern tractors measure torque on the wheels, soil density, humidity and even plot the location of the tractor on the farm to within a centimeter.

I suspect that the engineers at Deere are smart. But so are hackers.

Could hackers figure out how to log on to Deere Farm equipment and disable it?

I’m not talking about 27 tractors in Chechnya. What about, say, all of the Deere equipment at all farms in the United States?

Is this possible? Yes. Likely? Not until someone cracks Deere’s security code. I am sure that if you ask Deere, they would say their defenses are bullet proof. Even to say, a disgruntled insider?

Even the FBI and the Department of Agriculture recognize that this is a threat. They issued a warning bulletin back in 2016. Back then they were only worried about ransomware and stealing farming data.

Russia would like nothing more than to sabotage the American food supply and embarrass us. Oh, yes, and cause starvation right here in America.

At least some people say that Deere’s security practices are, shall we say, less than optimal. Hopefully someone has explained to Deere’s management that if what I suggested above were to happen, the lawsuit would put them out of business.

It is also possible that their software is so crappy that to do this on a large scale would be difficult to impossible. Even if it were not easy to shut down all farming in the U.S., what if Russia was just able to shut down all farming in Kansas? Or random farms across the U.S. What if they shut down one farm somewhere, every hour, randomly.

The problem is that the farmers are now dependent on this tech to run the big agri-business farms (probably not as much for family farms, but those are quickly disappearing), so they can’t shut it down. I certainly hope that the farm equipment industry (this is not a Deere problem, this is an industry wide problem) is thinking about this threat to their very existence. Modern cars, light trucks and heavy trucks are all also susceptible to this risk.

Let’s hope that Russian hackers are incompetent. Hope is a good strategy, right?

Credit: CSO Online

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