A Deere dealership in Melitopol, Ukraine, was looted by invading Russian forces, who took away an estimated $5m worth of farm machinery. The perfect crime perhaps, save for the John Deere onboard computer system being used to remotely disable them leaving the crooks with combine harvesters they can’t even start.
John Deere machines have a remote kill switch to deny control to American farmers. #infosec @doctorow https://t.co/KuByBWs2W9— Kim Crawley (@kim_crawley) May 8, 2022
VIN locks began in car-engines. Auto manufacturers started to put cheap microcontrollers into engine components and subcomponents. A mechanic could swap in a new part, but the engine wouldn’t recognize it — and the car wouldn’t drive — until an authorized technician entered an unlock code into a special tool connected to the car’s internal network. More here.
Big Car sold this as a safety measure, to prevent unscrupulous mechanics from installing inferior refurbished or third-party parts in unsuspecting drivers’ cars. But the real goal was eliminating the independent car repair sector, and the third-party parts industry, allowing car manufacturers to monopolize the repair and parts revenues, charging whatever the traffic would bear (literally).
So the Kill switch story above makes for a great news story showing the Ukrainians getting one over on the Russian looters, and since on-farm thefts are a hot topic anywhere in the world it’s not entirely unexpected that Deere would have incorporated a kill-switch in their products. But let’s look at how the relationship between motor vehicle owner and manufacturer is changing from one of product ownership to software licence. If you don’t own your combine, or the data the sensors installed all over it recording information sold to Monsanto (now Bayer), and if there’s a Kill Switch that can stop you mid-harvest – is it really your farm anymore?