Majority of Ag businesses need stronger cyber-security defences for IoT solutions

Research by Inmarsat, the world leader in global, mobile satellite communications, reveals most agricultural businesses face security challenges when deploying IoT solutions.

Those surveyed said poor network security and internal data regulation and compliance requirements are their two biggest concerns, underlining the need for stronger cyber-security defences for their IoT solutions.

The research also shows businesses are increasingly taking proactive measures to combat IoT security threats, such as introducing external IoT security policies and partnering with third parties to bolster their digital security.

According to the research, ‘Industrial IoT in the Time of Covid-19’, almost four-fifths (77%) of agricultural respondents say their organisation’s IoT projects could be more secure and over half (52%) of all agricultural businesses consider poor network security the biggest security challenge associated with the use of IoT projects within their organisations.

Businesses are also acutely aware that stolen, misused or misplaced data from IoT projects could give competitors access to confidential business information. For this reason, the other top IoT security threats reported include internal data regulation and compliance requirements (46%), potential mishandling or misuse of data by employees (42%) and the risk of external cyber-attack (41%).

Since Inmarsat’s last IoT survey in 2018, IoT adoption has dramatically accelerated, with the resulting proliferation of networks intrinsically creating more vulnerable endpoints across IoT networks, with the number of perceived security threats associated with industrial IoT networks increasing accordingly.

However, considerable progress has been made in the agricultural sector over the last few years to combat these threats, with an increasing number of companies responding by creating an external IoT security policy for suppliers and partners.

Nearly half (49%) of all agricultural organisations now have one in place, compared with only 19% in 2018. Many more businesses are now partnering with a third party to bolster digital security (41%, compared to 30% in 2018) or investing in new security technologies (36%, compared to 25% in 2018).

For agricultural organisations that have a formal IoT strategy in place, are more likely to take measures to ensure their cyber-security, with 64% having created an internal IoT security policy (compared with only 39% of those without a formal IoT strategy in place).

IoT security is also a higher priority in those organisations where IoT purchasing decisions are made at board level by the C-suite, or by the senior leadership team. Here, a higher-than-average proportion of respondents are focusing on securing physical assets such as sensor nodes (48%, compared with the sample average of 34%).

Commenting on IoT security challenges in the agricultural sector, Steven Tompkins, Director of Market Development at Inmarsat, said: “While agricultural businesses may not immediately seem like a target for bad actors, the risk is increasing as businesses put more onus on their digital operations as a way of boosting their output.

“Anything which hampers production or leads to delays in supply could have dire repercussions for a company, its valuation, and its place in the supply chain, or if carried out on a large enough scale, for consumers. It is not just cyber-attacks agriculturalists need to be wary of either. Misused or misplaced data could easily give competitors an advantage, stressing the importance of effective IoT security and data management strategies.”

Commenting on the findings, Mike Carter, President of Inmarsat Enterprise said: “With nearly four in five of our research respondents reporting their organisation’s IoT security could be more robust, many businesses clearly continue to face serious security challenges in their IoT deployments.

“The accelerating speed of IoT adoption over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it a proliferation of security concerns, given the increasing number of potentially vulnerable endpoints associated with IoT projects. Comparing our latest results with our 2018 IoT survey, security risks are growing, but in response, businesses are becoming more aware of cyber-security threats and doing more to respond.

“Overall, our results reveal it is those organisations with a formal IoT strategy in place, or who enjoy full support for their IoT projects at the boardroom level, lead the way in terms of having the most informed, security-conscious mindsets and taking positive, proactive steps to shore up their cyber-security defences.

“These organisations tend to best understand the gravity of IoT cyber-security issues, taking essential measures such as introducing internal and external IoT security policies and investing in, or upgrading security technologies.

“Cyber-security risk management is vital at the network level. Inmarsat’s global ELERA network, the latest evolution of our industry-leading L-band network, is specifically designed to deliver the most secure and highly reliable IoT connectivity to business-critical applications, even in remote places. By enabling organisations from all sectors to access IoT securely anywhere, we enable new possibilities.”