Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is warning farm cooperatives and state ag directors to stand ready against cyberattacks as harvest gets underway.

Vilsack’s comments, made to National Association of State Departments of Agriculture meeting attendees Wednesday, come after a Russian group hacked Iowa-based New Cooperative’s computer system and demanded a $5.9 million ransom earlier this week.

He said cooperatives should make sure they have their technology systems “in place and hardened” against any kind of future attack.

“I would strongly encourage all of us as commissioners, directors, and secretaries to encourage our coops in our respective states to do what they need to do, to learn what they need to learn, to make sure their systems are hardened against any kind of cyberattack,” Vilsack noted.

NASDA President Richard Ball told reporters cybersecurity is something the agricultural community has to take seriously.

“We kind of have to refresh and just I think double down at harvest time right now and just look and make sure we’re doing everything right,” Ball said.

Ball noted New York has a cybersecurity work group and said the state gets about 400 threats a day.

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NASDA adopted cybersecurity policy at their business meeting in Louisville. The policy encourages agriculture producers to look at their cybersecurity measures to ensure protection is there, said RJ Karney, public policy director for the organization.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said it’s evident over the last year that hackers have tried to test America’s food supply chain, and companies within the supply chain need to go to the next level to protect themselves.

“I don’t think we need anymore evidence than what we’ve seen with Colonial Pipeline, JBS, and others that there are folks interested in disrupting American life and if they’re going to do that, they’re going to look for those critical pieces of infrastructure,” Naig told Agri-Pulse.

In late May, hackers shut down major meatpacker JBS’ computer systems. That company represents roughly a quarter of the nation's beef processing capacity and in April, hackers also took down Colonial Pipeline’s systems leading to fuel shortages across the East Coast.

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