Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Agritech may extract a price for progress

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Agriculture, with its growing reliance on technology, is seen as a target for cyber crime.
An international survey estimates only 16% of cyber crime ever gets reported to authorities.
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Microsoft founder Bill Gates once said: “The advance of technology is based on making it fit in so that you don’t really even notice it, so it’s part of everyday life.”

He was clearly onto something. 

Mobile phones, once used too call or text someone, are now mobile computers and seemingly vital to so many people’s lives.

We’re using phones to check social media feeds, emails, internet banking or to do a quick spot of online shopping. They are used as a work tool, to view home security cameras and operate home appliances from afar. The technology infatuation is such that some people can’t put their phones down, even while driving vehicles and despite it being illegal and a danger to others. You only have to stand at a busy traffic intersection to witness this.

But with the increased use of technology comes an increased opportunity for those keen to make a dollar at the expense of others.

Cyber crime is on the rise and the offenders are banking on victims’ laidback approach to technology and need to get things done quickly to catch them out. Emails or texts purporting to be from banks or businesses, but actually from scammers, arrive almost weekly. With the influx of emails and texts its easy to open a link without reading it thoroughly, only to discover you have provided bank details or personal information to a scammer.

It is not just scammers we now have to contend with. Cyber criminals are also targeting businesses through a company’s IOT, or internet of things. The IoT is a collection of sensors, software and other operating technology that might exist within a company. 

Scammers can take control of sensors and software and demand ransoms before releasing their grip on the technology. The agriculture industry, with its growing reliance on technology, is seen as a target.

The latest quarterly report from the national Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) revealed $5.8 million was lost to cyber crime in the first quarter of this year, a 66% jump on the same period in 2022 ($3.7m).

Almost 2000 New Zealanders reported being targeted in the three-month period. Of those, 264 people lost between $100 and $1000 and 16 people lost more than $100,000. 

But that is just the tip of the iceberg. An international survey estimates only 16% of cyber crime ever gets reported to authorities.

In 2016 the government invested $22.2m to set up CERT in response to the growing amount of cyber fraud. CERT supports businesses, organisations and individuals affected by cyber security incidents, providing information and advice.

It is headed by Rob Pope, a former deputy police commissioner.

Pope says scammers have changed their tactics, using search engine ads and professional-looking documentation. To complicate things, scammers can now use artificial intelligence (AI) to write more convincing phishing emails in various languages, to create malicious code, and to even impersonate people in live chats.

“We haven’t seen many AI scams reported to CERT NZ yet, but it’s only a matter of time,” he says.

There is no doubt technology is now a part of everyday life, but when it goes wrong there can be a price to pay.

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