Critical Infrastructure and cybersecurity in food and agriculture industry

July 23, 2021
Cybersecurity and critical infrastructure in food and agriculture industry

Roads, electricity and water are often things we think of as “critical” to our infrastructure. We make assumptions that as long as we have power, water, and can get from place to place, we don’t have anything to worry about. However, as many witnessed during the recent COVID-19 pandemic when supplies were often interrupted, the food and agricultural sector is an equally important piece of the nation’s critical infrastructure.

According to the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, the food and agricultural sector accounts for roughly one-fifth of the nation’s economic activity. It is also unique in that it’s almost entirely under private ownership, including farms, restaurants, and food manufacturing, processing, and storage facilities.

Recent cybersecurity attacks on the agricultural industry

Like many other infrastructure sectors, the food and agricultural sector is facing challenges from ransomware attacks, on top of supply chain disruptions and climate change concerns.

In early June, Russian-based hackers successfully infiltrated JBS USA, one of the top beef producers in America, reports Samantha Schwartz for CybersecurityDive. As a result, slaughterhouses were forced to close for several days, which could lead to an increase in meat prices.

The attack was so severe, hitting both North American and Australian JBS locations, The White House and Department of Agriculture stepped in to offer assistance. JBS headquarters in Brazil appeared less impacted. JBS has indicated they are able to restore data from backups and that no customer, employee, or supplier data has been compromised.

President Biden, who has long been a proponent of increasing cybersecurity protections, has also focused his early days in office on improving infrastructure.

The government’s plan to address critical infrastructure and supply chain issues in agriculture

In partnership with Biden’s plan, the USDA has indicated they will be investing $4 billion in strengthening the nation’s food chain through the Build Back Better initiative.

In a press release from early June, the USDA stated that, “The new effort will strengthen the food system, create new market opportunities, tackle the climate crisis, help communities that have been left behind, and support good-paying jobs throughout the supply chain.”

This will include development of a new task force that will address supply chain challenges by identifying the problems and solutions related to supply constraints.

“The COVID-19 pandemic led to massive disruption for growers and food workers. It exposed a food system that was rigid, consolidated, and fragile. Meanwhile, those growing, processing and preparing our food are earning less each year in a system that rewards size over all else,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in the USDA press release.

USDA’s Build Better Back initiative combined with the existing infrastructure updates outlined in Biden’s American Jobs plan will see many changes occurring toward strengthening America’s food and agricultural sector of critical infrastructure.

Students studying critical infrastructure at Capitol Tech will learn about critical infrastructure protection for food and agricultural facilities, among other key facilities, in the course Critical Infrastructure III.

Learn more about Capitol Tech’s degree programs in Construction, Facilities, and Safety and Security, Intelligence, and Critical Infrastructure. Many courses are available both on campus and online. For more information, contact