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Ransomware targets farmers for cash

Agribusiness is big business. The world’s food supply depends on independent farmers, collectives, and large cooperatives, and agriculture is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Recently the farming industry has been warned against a potential increase in ransomware attacks. 

Ransomware attacks, which involve hackers shutting down technology systems until a ransom is paid, often target sectors run by large organizations. What makes the agriculture industry attractive to hackers is the potential for lucrative gains due to the time-sensitive nature of farming. Farmers can’t afford to wait too long for their systems to go back online. 

Zdnet.com reports that the FBI views ransomware attacks on seasonal farming activities as a new emerging threat against agricultural cooperatives in the U.S., Australia, and the United Kingdom. 

Multiple cooperatives have already fallen victim to attacks during spring planting and autumn harvesting in the past year alone, with six attacks against grain producers in late 2021. In another case that was prevented, a planned seasonal-style attack on a company supplying feed and agricultural services was timed to impact the birthing season. The FBI says it “is notable” that the attempt to disrupt the care of newborn animals by stopping feed services would have put enormous pressure on farmers to pay up.

Industrial-sized farm operations, or cooperatives, are a lucrative target. Attacks could focus on different points in a farming lifecycle, including planting, the arrival of seed supplies, fertilizer deliveries, logistics, farm planning, and animal care. Farms are susceptible to the pressure of a quick payout as there are several crunch points in a year’s worth of farm time. 

The FBI warns ransomware is more likely just before a seasonal change, such as harvest or crop sowing, precisely because the disruption will prove super-costly.

As a result of these warnings, farm operations are advised to take security precautions, install the latest updates for operating systems, implement network segmentation and multifactor identification, and use strong passwords. Organizations should invest in training for staff to avoid phishing and social engineering approaches and have a recovery plan ready if they fall victim to a ransomware attack.

In other news

  • TickleFoot device can tickle the most sensitive spots on the human foot. Good news for tickle lovers everywhere — researchers in New Zealand created an insole that stimulates the most ticklish areas of the foot to induce uncontrolled laughter. NewScientist reports that the research team found that women were most ticklish in the center of the arch, while men responded more to tickles beside the toes. But what purpose does the Ticklefoot serve? Some scientists believe that tickling serves an evolutionary role in social interaction and bonding and might result in stress relief. While many would respectfully disagree that being tickled could ever relieve stress, perhaps there is a small subset of the population for whom the TickleFoot would be a welcome addition to their everyday footwear.
  • Twitter bans ads that deny climate change. Twitter is clamping down on advertisements that contradict the scientific consensus on climate change, according to AP News. Fittingly, the social media giant made the announcement on Earth Day. “Ads shouldn’t detract from important conversations about the climate crisis,” it said in a statement about the new policy. Currently, it’s unclear whether this policy will impact users tweeting about climate change. Twitter said it would announce more plans to promote reliable and authoritative information on climate change in the coming months, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  • New chopsticks make food taste saltier. In conjunction with food and beverage company Kirin Holdings, Japanese researchers have invented a new type of electric chopstick that could be a game-changer for people watching their sodium intake. According to Interesting Engineering, these chopsticks increase the perceived saltiness of food by sending a safe electric charge, which can change how the food tastes as a person eats. While this may seem like a random use of technology, Japan’s daily sodium consumption is more than double the World Health Organization’s daily recommended allowance. These chopsticks should allow people to add less salt to their food without impacting flavor.
  • US court rules web scraping is legal. The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that web scraping, the process of copying public information from websites, is legal. This decision, the result of a battle between LinkedIn and a rival company, states that using data that is publicly available is not a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and is not considered hacking. TechCrunch notes that this ruling is a win for academics, researchers, and journalists that use this data in their work. However, the ruling also concerns privacy advocates who have spoken up against the scraping of social platforms for use in things such as facial recognition software.

    LinkedIn’s spokesperson Greg Snapper said, “When your data is taken without permission and used in ways you haven’t agreed to, that’s not okay. On LinkedIn, our members trust us with their information, which is why we prohibit unauthorized scraping on our platform.”
  • Google is taking cookies seriously. Google will soon offer a new process for accepting or rejecting tracking cookies. The Verge reported that France’s data protection agency CNIL fined Google €150 million ($170 million) for cumbersome cookie banners that steered users to accepting cookies regardless of preferences. The new banners will make it easier to ‘reject all,’ ‘accept all,’ or choose more options. Although the new banners will initially be used in France, they will be extended across Europe, allowing users to choose options with a single click. While these changes only impact Google sites, it sets a precedent and should encourage other websites to simplify their cookie options as well. 
  • Robot dogs are one thing, but robot rats? A team at China’s Beijing Institute of Technology has developed the “Small-sized Quadruped Robotic rat,” or SQuRo. NewAtlas reports that the robot is modeled on the shape and size of the Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus), with multiple points of flexibility in its body, legs, and tail, making it much more maneuverable than larger robots. And it can carry up to 7oz/200g of cargo, such as cameras or sensors. Because of its size and flexibility, SQuRo could help with search and rescue operations or inspect areas otherwise difficult to access. 

Tip of the week

The old saying “diamonds are forever” was made famous by the 1971 James Bond film, but today we often hear “the Internet is forever.” That’s because it’s become super-challenging to delete photos, news, and personal information from the web once published. Giants like Facebook, Snapchat, and Google hide the steps to delete your profiles because they benefit from an active profile’s data. 

When you’ve stopped using a particular social platform or just feel the urge to protect your privacy more than you used to, you should delete your old accounts. Distilled, a blog by Mozilla, recently published a guide to walk you through the steps to delete online clutter. The article contains links to those elusive cancellations pages that the giants try so hard to hide. 

Once you’ve cleared out your social media closet, dive into the depths of your password managers, too. You’ll soon discover that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of logins you’ve created for sites you forgot about long ago. Delete those, too, and remember that every deleted account patches up another vulnerability between you and the online spies. 

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Lisa McKnight avatar

Lisa McKnight

As a Senior digital copywriter at Namecheap, I'm passionate about communicating how vital the technology industry is and how stuff works. I enjoy writing persuasive and compelling copy for B2B and B2C clients, alongside interviews and thought pieces for authors and entrepreneurs. More articles written by Lisa.

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