Agriculture in the crosshairs of nation-state sponsored hackers (5/5)

If you want to overcome your adversaries you must know both yourself and your enemies, and fully understand your enemies’ intentions. Hunt & Hackett has observed an discerning increase of activity of Advanced Persistent Threat groups (APTs) in the agricultural sector. In this series of blogs, the threat posed by APTs to agriculture industries is analyzed and it is explained what motives lie behind these cyber-attacks. In this final part, the qualities of the agricultural sector in the Netherlands are examined and explained why this industry here is a target in particular.

The Netherlands is an obvious target for countries who are seeking to upgrade and modernize their agricultural sector. The Netherlands is world-renowned for its innovative industries and high-quality products. The agricultural sector is a shining example. An export value of over €95 billion was realized in 2020 and is expected to grow over the next few years. The Dutch industry has a broad scope of expertise, ranging from turn-key greenhouse farming concepts to genetic modification of seeds. This expertise is the result of many years of cooperation between the government, farming companies and researchers. Through a focus on research and development, with companies often investing up to 40% of revenue back into R&D, the Netherlands has built up to an excellent information position in the global agricultural industry.

Agriculture in the Netherlands

Figure 1 - The Netherlands is one of the leading nations in agricultural innovations.

It is not all puppies and sunshine for the Dutchies, however. The agricultural sector is also responsible for a large part of the country’s emissions of, not so ironic, greenhouse gasses. The industry has to undergo a major transformation to ensure a sustainable future. The Dutch government is planning on investing heavily in the sustainability of the industry. The imminent transformation to agriculture 4.0 means that yet again a lot of research and development has to happen. The insights of these costly processes could save other nations, such as China, a lot of time and effort if they were to get their hands on it. The know-how and advanced technologies the Dutch use in their greenhouses, on their fields and in their labs are a potential goldmine for countries struggling with their own food security or seeking to modernize their economy.

The tight cooperation between the government, universities and farming companies gives attackers a wide attack surface to achieve their goals. At all levels, everyone that is involved in the development, manufacturing or deployment of agricultural innovations should be aware of the extra sets of eyes lurking in the dark, trying to find a way in. Espionage and information theft have never been a more viable option than today. There is no need for on scene action by heroic James Bond-like figures; a few tech-savvy millennials can deliver much more to their governments from their offices in Beijing, Moscow, Tehran or Pyongyang.

APTs over time

Figure 2 - Hunt & Hackett has observed a sharp increase in APT activity in agriculture and related industries.

In this series of blogs by Hunt & Hackett on the increasing threat (see figure 2) of nation-state sponsored APTs for the global and Dutch agricultural industry, we have elaborated on who the attackers are, what they want and why they are using offensive cyber capabilities to meet their goals. Hunt & Hackett is actively hunting for the APT-groups that threaten the agricultural industry. APTs rely heavily on the Tools and attacking methods they are acquainted with. By tracking the TTPs and Tools these APTs have used in the past, Hunt & Hackett takes the power of their weapons away and is prepared for their future attacks. This adversary central approach is known in cyber-security as Threat Modelling and enables organizations to defeat their opponents time and time again. 


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