Following an attack of hackers stealing information from the world’s largest meat company, the University of Minnesota is taking a closer look at what this could mean for the future of food production.
John Hoffman, with the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Food Protection and Defense Institute, and his research team have been working with the government and industry to determine how to address the risk of cyber attacks. Hoffman is available to discuss why cyber systems are used in food production, and the potential disruption to the meat supply chain from the attack.
“Our food and agriculture supply chains depend upon networks of digital systems. This is true from primary production on the farm to processing, value-add operations, transport, distribution, food service and food retail. In fact, computers today guide our tractors, run our processing facilities, and manage distribution to our stores and restaurants. From vegetable planting and harvesting to meat and milk processing, our supply chains broadly depend upon, and even in some cases are operated by, vast digital networks and cyber-based devices.
“These cyber systems are critical in product testing, surveillance, quality control, and food safety systems. In short, cyber systems are embedded in nearly every aspect of food production and safety. Use of these systems vastly improves safety, reduces cost to consumers, and keep our food supply chains operating efficiently.
“This vast dependence upon complicated networks of cyber devices and their broad connectivity results in enormous risk, particularly in the face of nefarious actors who seek to harm our infrastructures or leverage this risk for illicit gain. As demonstrated very recently with the highly consequential ransomware attacks upon our energy and food sectors, the unprotected may pay a high price.
“Yet, we can reduce the risk while using these networks and devices. How we think about these systems, employ them and connect them within firms, monitor them for anomalies and intrusions, train our employees, and partner with law enforcement and government are all components of effective cyber security in the food and agriculture sector.”
Senior research fellow in the College of Veterinary Medicine
John Hoffman is a senior research fellow in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Food Protection and Defense Institute. After a thirty year military career, Col. Hoffman served as the first Food and Agriculture Infrastructure Program Manager within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Infrastructure Protection Directorate.