Are Connected Cows a Hacker’s Dream?

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Humans aren’t the only ones consumed with connected devices these days. Cows have joined our ranks.

Believe it or not, farmers are increasingly relying on IoT devices to keep their cattle connected. No, not so that they can moo-nitor (see what I did there?) Instagram, but to improve efficiency and productivity. For example, in the case of dairy farms, robots feed, milk and monitor cows’ health, collecting data along the way that help farmers adjust techniques and processes to increase milk production, and thereby profitability.

The implications are massive. As the Financial Times pointed out, “Creating a system where a cow’s birth, life, produce and death are not only controlled but entirely predictable could have a dramatic impact on the efficiency of the dairy industry.”

From Dairy Farm to Data Center

So, how do connected cows factor into cybersecurity? By the simple fact that the IoT devices tasked with milking, feeding and monitoring them are turning dairy farms into data centers – which has major security implications. Because let’s face it, farmers know cows, not cybersecurity.

Indeed, the data collected are stored in data centers and/or a cloud environment, which opens farmers up to potentially costly cyberattacks. Think about it: The average U.S. dairy farm is a $1 million operation, and the average cow produces $4,000 in revenue per year. That’s a lot at stake—roughly $19,000 per week, given the average dairy farm’s herd—if a farm is struck by a ransomware attack.

[You may also like: IoT Expands the Botnet Universe]

It would literally be better for an individual farm to pay a weekly $2,850 ransom to keep the IoT network up. And if hackers were sophisticated enough to launch an industry-wide attack, the dairy industry would be better off paying $46 million per week in ransom rather than lose revenue.

5G Cows

Admittedly, connected cows aren’t new; IoT devices have been assisting farmers for several years now. And it’s a booming business. Per the FT, “Investment in precision ‘agtech’ systems reached $3.2bn globally in 2016 (including $363m in farm management and sensor technology)…and is set to grow further as dairy farms become a test bed for the wider IoT strategy of big technology companies.”

[You may also like: Securing the Customer Experience for 5G and IoT]

But what is new is the rollout of 5G networks, which promise faster speeds, low latency and increased flexibility—seemingly ideal for managing IoT devices. But, as we’ve previously discussed, with new benefits come new risks. As network architectures evolve to support 5G, security vulnerabilities will abound if cybersecurity isn’t prioritized and integrated into a 5G deployment from the get-go.

In the new world of 5G, cyberattacks can become much more potent, as a single hacker can easily multiply into an army through botnet deployment. Indeed, 5G opens the door to a complex world of interconnected devices that hackers will be able to exploit via a single point of access in a cloud application to quickly expand an attack radius to other connected devices and applications. Just imagine the impact of a botnet deployment on the dairy industry.

[You may also like: IoT, 5G Networks and Cybersecurity: A New Atmosphere for Mobile Network Attacks]

I don’t know about you, but I like my milk and cheeses. Here’s to hoping dairy farmers turn to the experts to properly manage their security before the industry is hit with devastating cyberattacks.

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Mike O’Malley brings 20 years of experience in strategy, product and business development, marketing, M&A and executive management to Radware. Currently, Mr. O’Malley is the Vice President of Carrier Strategy and Business Development for Radware. In this role, he is responsible for leading strategic initiatives for wireless, wireline and cloud service providers. Mr. O’Malley has extensive experience developing innovative products and strategies in technology businesses including security, cloud and wireless. Prior to Radware, Mr. O’Malley held various executive management positions leading growing business units at Tellabs, VASCO and Ericsson. Mr. O’Malley holds a Master of Business Administration degree, a Master of Science in electrical engineering, and a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois. He also is a graduate of the Executive Strategy Programs at the University of Chicago.

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