Defcon #24 and small scale farming

What did this years version of the annual hacker convention in Las Vegas have to tell about small scale farming? Nothing directly, being that kind of  happening where the participants and speakers seem to thrive in cellars and abandoned mines, rather than the open air. Indirectly, a lot.


The theme this year was Human vs Machines, and of course, the internet of things was among the most frequent topics. It’s always amusing to watch hackers exploit old gadgets that their manufacturers given a prolonged product cycle by connecting them to the internet, and pranking the neighbours by exposing their porn surfing habits through a vulnerable online toaster mostly raise the question: why did that guy buy a connected toaster?

So why should the small scale farmer be concerned about IoT security (except for the earlier mentioned reason)? The first link in the food supply chain is about to get more complex, as the demand for both locally produced and refined food grows. The specialized farmers that sells crop, meat or milk to industrialized facilities will have a hard time competing with producers that controls the complete value chain, from hay to cheese and steak, and understand to add ethical, esthetical and cultural value to their products.

There are two ways for the small scale farmer to accomplish a substancial increase in value, either by focusing on cultural and estethical factors, and become artisans, or by focusing on efficiency and interamplifying (is that a word?) processes. It’s with the interamplifying processes the internet of things makes its entrance. Automation, surveillance and statistics might not add the cultural value of a handmade cheese from Grannies recipe, but it ensures high food quality, and uniform products even in small batches, and that will allow you to make a larger variety of products, without being an master artisan in every field.

So the sensors and relays that will help you make the best food on the market, will they work for you, or for anyone that comes by digitally? Their information can be a great asset, as they provide the customer with unique data about their meal, but if you expose the controls, you also expose the possibility to replicate or sabotage your products. That’s the downside of shifting knowledge from human to machine.

In the great battle between man and machine, the machines are definitely winning. Knowledge is power, and we keep rely on the knowledge we stuff into machines, while we stress our brains back to the stoneage in our efforts to keep up with them. It’s when we taste the delicious cheese that where made with their help and without our efforts, that we realize who the real winner is. Just keep your networks segmented.

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