Cyber security experts warn Australia's agriculture sector is under increasing risk of targeted attacks by criminal syndicates and foreign countries, and fear the consequences of such attacks could be detrimental to future trade negotiations.
Deakin University Centre for Cyber Security Research and Innovation director Damien Manuel said it was critical the sector looked at ways to improve its "capability and maturity", particularly when dealing with international cyber threats.
It follows a cyber attack on Australian-based beverage giant Lion Australia last week after its IT systems were crippled for a second time by hackers demanding a ransom of reportedly $1 million, according to The Age.
In March, the wool industry also experienced a ransomware attack, causing an unprecedented shutdown of wool auctions, with attackers seeking an $8 million ransom from Talman.
Mr Manuel, who is also chair of the Australian Information Security Association, warned the sector was not adequately positioned to deal with cyber threats because it was often not regarded as a primary focus.
"The sector needs to consider the disruption that can be caused to the supply chain, theft of intellectual property and sensitive market information, which could be used against them in trade negations," he said.
As industry looks at ways to innovate and streamline processes, the rise of automated technology in farming for tasks like watering and pest control are increasing the potential risk of cyber attacks, experts believe.
"As we introduce more and more technology to aid farmers to provide better management of farms, the over-reliance on that technology then provides a weakness that could be exploited and the risk of that occurring increases year-on-year as more technology is adopted," he said.
"We haven't seen examples of this in Australia yet, or none that have been declared openly, apart from what we saw with Lion last week but it's very common overseas for utilities such as water treatment plants, electricity distribution and also manufacturers of products to be disrupted. Agriculture is a sitting duck."
While large-scale operations are at most risk, small-scale operations could also fall victim to cyber threats.
Mr Manuel said farmers down the supply chain could also be affected in the event a larger conglomerate was hacked, such as a dairy processor for instance, ultimately affecting market access.
"Data theft could be used to embarrass the organisation or reduce trust and that could lead to devastating consequences," he said.
"For sectors that are critical such as ag, perhaps the government should be stepping up to provide some monitoring service like some kind of grant or fund assistance that farmers could access to uplift their capabilities."
La Trobe Optus cyber security chair professor Jill Slay, who specialises in digital forensic and critical infrastructure protection, said Australia had been under increasing cyber attacks.
"Often people don't have much of an idea about what hackers can do to them or their business before it's too late," Professor Slay said.
"Anytime you connect your ag technology to a network, you open yourself up to similar risks or threats as any bank or company. If a hacker knows how to attack a bank, they can hack large-scale farms connected through a number of networks."
Have you signed up to Stock & Land's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's important to Victorian agriculture.