Critical Vulnerabilities in the U.S. Food Sector and the Next Crippling Attack


The U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines 16 critical infrastructure sectors vital to the physical and economic security of the United States. Any destruction or disruption to one of these sectors would impart a massive, negative impact on U.S. national security. One of these 16 critical infrastructure sectors is the food and agricultural sector. Although not one of the first sectors to come to mind as “critical” to most people, this sector nonetheless touches the lives of all Americans. It is almost entirely privately owned yet accounts for one-fifth of the nation’s economic activity. It is composed of more than 2 million farms, more than 900,000 restaurants, and more than 200,000 food manufacturing, processing, and storage facilities.[1] In addition, this sector is closely linked with many other critical infrastructure sectors, including water and wastewater systems (for irrigation), transportation systems (for movement of food and animals), the energy sector (for powering the processing of food), and the chemical sector (for fertilizers and pesticides). Any disturbance to the food and agricultural sector will cause additional effects to the other critical infrastructure sectors. As such, it is of vital importance to protect food and agricultural operations in the U.S.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about historic supply chain issues that most people had not yet seen in their lifetimes. Facility shutdowns, labor shortages, and energy problems all took a toll on the food industry in terms of both supply and demand, and American consumers felt and continue to feel the economic side effects. This issue has brought to light some of the vulnerabilities found within the food sector. Most importantly, in addition to disruptions within the supply chain, the U.S. has seen an increasing number of cyberattacks that target physical food processing operations. There are a multitude of existing and emerging vulnerabilities that make agricultural entities prime targets for cyberattack, especially attacks from Russia. This has become so noticeable in recent years that U.S. congressional representatives have begun introducing bills to help protect against cyberattacks in the food…

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