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Hacking a tractor brings digital problems

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The video game Doom has dealt a blow to those who believe in a bright new digital agricultural future where everything is interconnected and everything runs well.

While this hack was limited to one machine and did not pose any threat to the company’s systems as a whole, it is an embarrassing reminder that electronics remain susceptible to outside meddling. John Deere has been at the forefront of bringing digital technology to farm equipment.

A hacker with the handle “Sick Codes” revealed his ability to play the 1993 video game Doom on a John Deere 4240 control console last week at a hackers conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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The most notable of them is Windows CE, an operating system that was licenced by Microsoft to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) so that they may customise it to meet their own needs. In 2023, the software’s official support will end.

He reportedly discovered that a large portion of the food system software is based on out-of-date, unpatched Linux coding, in addition to the soon-to-be-unsupported Windows operating system.

In a telephone interview that was released, “Sick Codes” stated that he decided to look into the infrastructure of the entire food supply chain’s digital vulnerability because no one else was, and the results of his investigation did not reassure him.

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As of right now, there is only one hacker who has brought this to our attention, but the fact that he was able to run an early version of Doom on a consul, which we are told is completely secure, shows that there may be some truth to his claims.

The right to repair organisations in the United States have applauded his ability to circumvent the software locks set up by John Deere’s experts.

Deere’s software had already been examined by “Sick Codes,” who discovered bugs that the manufacturer has since fixed. As a result, the “right to repair” movement claimed that he was aiding the manufacturer in plugging the gaps. This time, though, he has reached the system’s core and demonstrated how to get through locks and patches, allowing for the alteration of the code. However, to do so, physical access to the tractor was necessary.

It was a smart idea to run a modified version of Doom with a farming theme, as it, like Linux and Microsoft CE, dates from the early 1990s, making it easier for non-technical people to understand how old the software we use is. The fact that John Deere has integrated open-source software into its overall systems and is obligated by contract to make it public was also brought to the notice of conference attendees.

Whether it has done so or not is a question that more people in the computing industry are asking, and the business might end up facing legal action for failing to uphold the licence agreements. John Deere has been the most vocal in supporting digitalization and defending the practise of only allowing its dealers to fix tractors; as a result, it has become a target in both the computing and do-it-yourself mechanic communities.

But given that this type of software is probably included in many other companies’ systems, other manufacturers must be closely monitoring developments with concern. According to what is being said, Agriculture 4.0 is the great digital roadmap that will integrate farming into a highly effective data transfer and automation matrix.

This latest hack, following on from the AGCO ransomware attack of May, suggests that we should be very careful at putting all our eggs in just the one leaky basket.

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