The Vital Role Standards Play in Ag Cybersecurity

by | Sep 6, 2023 | Security

Securing the Harvest

In an era where technology is rapidly reshaping the agriculture industry, every leader now recognizes cybersecurity’s paramount importance. In this post, I’ll share why adopting IT cyber standards is gaining popularity.

Technology has transformed industries over the years. Agriculture is no exception, embracing digital tools and technologies to enhance productivity, efficiency, and sustainability.

Unfortunately, with this digital transformation comes increased vulnerability to cyber threats. IT standards safeguard critical agricultural system integrity, data confidentiality, and 24/7 availability.

When used, IT standards are a crucial defense against potential cyberattacks that could disrupt farming operations, compromise sensitive data, and even jeopardize the food supply chain. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) formed the Cybersecurity Framework in 2014 to help businesses of all sizes better understand, manage, and reduce their cybersecurity risk. Despite being a practical and useful framework, it has general applicability but needs adaptation for the operational nuances of the food supply chain.

The Safety of the Supply Chain

To address this, (PSO), a consortium of North America’s leading produce suppliers working to facilitate technology adoption in the produce supply chain, formed the PSO Cybersecurity Council in December of 2021. The council consists of 16 IT professionals who partner with subject matter experts and meet with each other to create best practices and tools to provide produce companies with a framework to defend and protect themselves. Melinda Goodman of FullTilt Marketing and ZAG’s Robert Collings recently sat down with PSO’s COO, Johnny McGuire, to discuss this important project.

The PSO Cybersecurity Council standards took the NIST Cybersecurity Framework as a foundation and tailored them to meet the specific needs of the agriculture industry. Johnny shared, “Most recently,  we’ve been very dedicated to cybersecurity and, as a committee, developed a set of standards that we feel are targeted, reasonable, and usable for produce companies like ours. We created these standards to help protect the industry, so we’ve made the standards accessible to anyone at no cost on our website.”

Adherence to industry standards helps build trust among stakeholders, including consumers, investors, and government agencies. It demonstrates a commitment to securing agricultural processes and data, which is vital for maintaining the integrity of the food supply chain. “We’re eventually going to see some of the large retailers requiring external security audits of those in their supply chain, or at the least, requiring incident response and disaster recovery plans,” Johnny added. “They rely on us for fresh produce year-round, not delayed shipments or empty shelves.”

Standing Up for Standards

The PSO standards promote consistency and best practices across the agriculture industry. They provide a clear framework for implementing security measures and facilitating collaboration among farmers, agribusinesses, and technology providers to create a united front against cyber threats. In response to the mention of collaboration, Melinda added, “I appreciate those of you who have taken the initiative to stand up and assume the leadership role and responsibility for the industry, recognize that you’re all stronger together, and prioritize that throughout the entire process.”

Industry standards for cybersecurity in agriculture are not just a recommendation but a necessity. Cybersecurity breaches can lead to catastrophic consequences, affecting crop yields, interconnected partners, and consumer safety. Standards provide a roadmap for protecting critical infrastructure, securing sensitive data, and ensuring compliance with regulations. By mitigating risks, fostering trust, and promoting innovation, these standards are essential for the sustainable growth and resilience of the agricultural sector in an increasingly digitized world.

Listen to the Podcast

For more insights and commentary, listen to the entire conversation in the player above or on the Tip of the Iceberg podcast The Packer published here.

We launched an informative and entertaining series talking all things ag tech, from new tech applied to organic fruit to cybersecurity, AI, robotics, and everything in between. A respected thought leader in the industry will join us each episode to share their knowledge and experiences with all of us. Join us as we uncover how technology is reshaping agriculture.

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