News Tech: After getting into the controls of a John Deere tractor to install the video game DOOM, an Australian hacker issued a warning shot at the security of computerised farm equipment.
His manipulation of the Linux-based display, demonstrated this month at one of the biggest hacker events in the world, DEF CON 30 in Las Vegas, has sparked debate about whether farmers should have the freedom to repair their own machines and concerns about hazards to the food supply chain.
He claimed that the project’s inspiration, which has since gained popularity in gaming, farming, and tech circles, was to push businesses to prioritise the security of these systems while simultaneously demonstrating to farmers that it was possible to control their equipment.
Threat hackers are aware that agriculture is a poorly protected sector and a prime target for ransomware, he said.
“I was able to get the software off the John Deere tractor display and then modify it in a significant way,” he said.
“I spent a couple of months pulling it apart and tinkering with it, tinkering not just with the hardware but then also with the software.” On the tractor computer, he installed a customised version of the classic first-person shooting game DOOM, a technique used frequently by hackers to show just how much access they had to a system.
“That means, pretty much, I am the boss of the system,” he said. In a statement, John Deere said its top priority was the protection of customers, their machines, and their data.
According to him, businesses frequently claim their technology is valuable intellectual property or is too sophisticated to be repaired on one’s own, but the hack revealed that a large portion of the John Deere code was developed in free, open source communities. According to Mr. Wiens, the demonstration brought to light a larger problem with the way the agricultural technology sector was growing.
Right-to-repair proponents like Kyle Wiens, whose business iFixit offers consumers free repair instructions and guides, have also taken notice of the DEF CON protest. “The capabilities that Sick Codes demonstrated during his recent presentation at DEF CON were obtained through invasive/persistent physical access, disassembly of a hardware product, and reverse engineering of proprietary software,” the statement read.
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