Food Production IoT Cyber Threats

A vertical in food processing and manufacturing consists of several players, including electrical systems, waste treatment, water, and equipment vendors. The collaborators play an essential role in meeting food demands for a global population that is perpetually on the rise. Currently, tech companies provide an automated platform for recording activities on food production systems to comply with regulations. Food processors generate documents from daily input or by automatic feeds from devices and sensors into cloud services and databases. 

In our last article about cybersecurity in the food processing and manufacturing industry, we touched on the sector’s dependence on customary and vulnerable industrial control systems (ICSs).  Overall, the food industry is embracing aggressive digital transformation initiatives to enhance productivity and efficiency. For instance, companies in the sector invest in high-tech tools and systems such as the Internet of Things (IoT) to optimize production and save costs. Farmers deploy devices with mobile connectivity to remotely monitor food production without the need to visit and supervise farms and processing plants physically.

IoT has a broad range of uses in food production. The industry involves not only producing food items, but also processing, safety, storage, and waste management. Stakeholders in the food industry, therefore, use IoT solutions in these activities to help manage large tracks of land, feed herds of animals, and monitor and control environmental conditions.

Meanwhile, base technologies and devices used in digitally transforming the food processing sector are becoming affordable, and cellular data connectivity is becoming ubiquitous in remote agricultural areas. The broader adoption of technology in the industry to increase food production, however, subject the food production network to cyber threats such as a ransomeware. 

IoT Use in Food Production Come with Cyber Threats

An array of IoT systems connected to the Internet use default ports. However, such ports become dangerous when threat actors exploit legal services through security vulnerabilities introduced to IoT systems via social engineering and malware. Cybercriminals can leverage open ports and services to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data in the food processing industry. 

Furthermore, many IoT devices come with default passwords or are resettable to any universal factory setting. Many vendors lack a vulnerability disclosure policy or a point of contact for sharing information about security features. Subsequently, IoT companies rushing to be the first in market ship devices with an easily guessed default password, and in some instances, no password at all. Some vendors build devices that lack real-time remote update capabilities when users discover security flaws.

Our recent post revealed that the Ripple20 Bug is affecting millions of IoT devices that industries deploy today. Researchers have discovered that a lightweight TCP/IP software library that manufacturers have implemented in connected devices for approximately two decades has Ripple20 vulnerabilities. The bugs affect hundreds of millions of IoT industrial control devices, some of which automate operations in the food processing industry. On the other hand, cybercriminals are devising frequent and sophisticated tactics to compromise IoT-based systems by distributing ransomware and causing denial of service attacks. 

Mitigating Cyber Threats Introduced by IoT in Food Production

Food processing is a ‘no room for error’ industry. Without proper security controls, an exploited vulnerability could lead to the production of unhealthy products, placing lives at risk and stressing healthcare systems. In effect, the industry should put zero-tolerance for malicious hackers or disgruntled insiders who make objectionable modifications to the manufacturing process. 

Organizations in the food industry can put in place several measures to enhance security.

+   Food processing IoT systems should have security features built-in from the design stage, instead of bolting safety controls as an afterthought

+   Actively monitoring networks and scanning ports for suspicious activities and responding to attackers’ actions

+   Purchase IoT devices from vendors who update and release security patches and guarantee updates

+   Secure remote access by performing due diligence to determine the make, model, and common vulnerabilities in IoT devices

+   Use secure HTTPs web access connection for remote access and monitoring

+   Install security software on single-purpose, low-power IoT devices

+   Deploy IoT devices with a simple reset function and remote management capabilities

+   Prevent ancillary services on IoT devices to limit the points of entry for hackers

+   Change default login credentials before deploying ICS tools and other IoT devices, create unique usernames and strong passwords for authentication

+   Limit connectivity and access for IoT systems whose functionality is not dependent on the open web

+   Train operation personnel about social engineering and phishing attacks

+   Partner with cybersecurity experts in acquiring, deploying, and securing ICS and IoT solutions

As various stages of food processing and manufacturing become increasingly digitized and interconnected using IoT systems, the need arises for increased management and control of sensitive information. Organizations require measures to prevent data falsification or compromise due to cyber incidents that affect the integrity of systems and pose risks to the public and economy. As the reliance on IoT grows in food production, the industry should prioritize securing the technology. Considering the impact a cyber incident or an act of sabotage could have in the sector, stakeholders should invest in the same level of cybersecurity controls as the protection of food safety in processing plants.

ISA experts help organizations assess their security posture, identify threats, and take necessary steps such as implementing security controls and training employees to alleviate cyber-attacks and unintentional human errors. We offer full-service solutions and expert strategic advisory consulting that help our clients to stay ahead of cyber threats while they focus on core business functions.

Contact ISA today to learn more.

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