Info@NationalCyberSecurity
Info@NationalCyberSecurity

DSU cyber students help protect farm equipment from hackers | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker


MADISON, S.D. (KELO) — From plowing a field with a team of horses to now having a tractor that can practically run on its own, farming has changed a lot through the years. But all those technological advances also expose us to risks, including possible cyber attacks.

Modern farm equipment has come a long way from the tractors our great-grandfathers used.
No one knows that better than Jeff Bloom, who’s been involved in this family-owned implement dealership his whole life.

“You know we need to be able to protect this three-quarters of a million-dollar piece of equipment against someone being able to disable it from a world away. “And that’s what DSU and their cyber security is doing for us and Case IH,” said Bloom.

At the Mad Labs building on the Dakota State University campus, teams of faculty and students are working with Case New Holland to protect the computerized farm equipment.

“Just like many of our vehicles that you use now, cars and things like that, they are going to have a computer inside, and like any computer, if you can gain access to it, then you can get control,” said Associate Professor Austin O’Brien.

“When Russia invaded Ukraine, all of a sudden, it became this huge question of what happens to wheat production, how do we go about harvesting these things, if an attacker is able to shut down even for a couple of days that can become extremely problematic on the harvest side of things,” said Associate Professor Mark Spanier of DSU.

Spanier and O’Brien are Associate professors working to help protect farm equipment. Spanier says bad actors could disable the piece of equipment or do something more nefarious, such as messing with the brakes or causing a sprayer to apply too much chemical to kill off the crop.
The students don’t have a half-million-dollar tractor in the lab, but Case IH has provided them with the next best thing—the guts.

“You can look over here,” said Spanier. “You can see we have portions of a tractor. So it is one of these when you bring people into the lab sometimes we have essentially kind of the full can bus environment over there and people come in and we are like here is our tractor, and people are often like, that doesn’t look like a tractor well those are the technical guts inside of that tractor and from the security side of this that’s the thing that we are really caring about.”

The teams must imagine how a hacker would attack the computer in the farm equipment and then come up with ways of preventing it. They are also working on detection and how to get rid of malicious information once uncovered.

“Part of the reason why it’s so important to protect all that information and as the farmers are going through the field and creating these maps, they own that data, and that data needs to be protected,” said Bloom. “The amount of information that they put in this monitor is mind-boggling; it’s like a mini-computer.”

O’Brien says the partnership helps both the students and the manufacturer.

“Students get this real-world experience where they are working with a company kind of in a research and development type role, and then these companies are definitely getting a lot out of it, you know, trying to help their equipment make sure that it is secure or learning what vulnerabilities there could be,” said O’Brien.

As word gets out, we can expect more manufacturers to reach out to DSU, which translates to more opportunities for students to get that all-important hands-on experience.

“Having the young talent come out of South Dakota and having them work right here in Madison is so neat,” said Bloom.

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