Cyberbiosecurity is an emerging discipline. We are at the entry point of this discipline and striving to lead its emergence, especially related to the agricultural and food system. This is the first known effort to characterize the dynamic exchange of data across the agricultural and food system with relevance to both academic research and outreach and for training and education. Through this effort, we will be establishing Virginia Tech as pioneers in and an expert resource for cyberbiosecurity in agriculture and food education, research, and outreach programs. The long-term outcome of this effort will be the development of a more highly trained agriculture, food, and cybersecurity workforce, new career opportunities, and policies and programs to protect the bioeconomy of Virginia and the U.S. 

October 2019 update

Defining cyberbiosecurity for protecting life sciences data is challenging. Drs. Susan Duncan (PI), Margaret Ellis (co-PI) and Tiffany Drape (co-PI) spoke with 3 undergraduate students assisting with the project. Students were seeking an understanding so they could scout literature for examples of threats, risks, and benefits of cyberbiosecurity in mitigating these challenges. 

Cyberbiosecurity focuses on the intersection of cybersecurity, biosecurity, and physical security and the understanding of security for life science data. In this project, we are focusing on developing examples of life science data that is shared and on which different sectors across a system rely on data sharing and integrity for their agronomic and economic decisions. Our team is working with an agricultural research team who are developing vegetable soybeans, from the original genetics and breeding, through agricultural production, insect and weed management, innovations in mechanical harvesting, processing, consumer acceptance and economic value. Dr. Susan Duncan (PI), Dr. Bo Zhang (Co-PI), and Ms. Renata Carneiro (PhD student) are members of both the ICAT team project and the edamame project. 

The ICAT team will be interviewing the edamame team about data collection, sharing, cyberbiosecurity, and risks, threats, and challenges that may illustrate industry practices and life science data that would affect success in the development of a domestic edamame industry. 

December 2019 update

Cyberbiosecurity focuses on the intersection of cybersecurity, biosecurity, and physical security and the understanding of security for life science data. In this project, we are focusing on developing examples of life science data that is shared and on which different sectors across a system rely on data sharing and integrity for their agronomic and economic decisions. Our team is working with an agricultural research team who are developing vegetable soybeans (edamame), from the original genetics and breeding, through agricultural production, insect and weed management, innovations in mechanical harvesting, processing, consumer acceptance and economic value. Dr. Susan Duncan (PI), Dr. Bo Zhang (Co-PI), and Ms. Renata Carneiro (PhD student) are members of both the ICAT team project and the edamame project.

In preparation for the development of case studies, a portion of the project team reviewed related life science and agriculture literature and identified terminology associated with cyberbiosecurity (Figure 1). Several magazine and news articles, providing illustrations of cyberbiosecurity threats pertaining to life science (food, ag, health), were also located. This information will serve as content for case studies for education and discussion materials for classroom and training programs.

Designing Cyberbiosecurity Case Studies for the Food and Agricultural System for Integrating Education, Workforce Development, and BioEconomy
Figure 1. From L to R: Zoie McMillan (undergraduate senior), Tiffany Drape (Co-PI; ALCE Dept), Noah Magerkorth (undergraduate student), Margaret Ellis (Co-PI; CS Dept), Susan Duncan (PI; CALS)

The ICAT Cyberbiosecurity project team met with the transdisciplinary agricultural research team (2 hrs) to gather data using this agriculture and food system project as an illustration of life sciences data generation, management, sharing, and training needs. In this discussion session, the agricultural research team provided their responses to a series of questions relating to value of data generated within different sectors of the agriculture and food system, data management practices, threats to data security, risks occurring if threats were realized, data and cyberphysical system security actions, and external stakeholders (non-academic) that represent that sector of the system. In preparation, participants reviewed one peer-reviewed publication on cyberbiosecurity for the agriculture and food system and select (from a list) another publication of relevance to cyberbiosecurity for life sciences. The facilitated discussion was recorded and will be transcribed with a goal of identifying information of relevance to case study development, terminology of importance, and other relevant outcomes (IRB 19-692). Figure 2 illustrates a draft of the summary table that will be completed.

Designing Cyberbiosecurity Case Studies for the Food and Agricultural System for Integrating Education, Workforce Development, and BioEconomy
Figure 2. At the 2019 annual meeting of the USDA SCRI Edamame project Advisory Board Meeting (upper R), ICAT project PI Susan Duncan delivered a presentation on the concept of cyberbiosecurity for food and agriculture to the entire transdisciplinary research team (upper L). As part of that presentation, initial information from the discussion data gathering was presented (lower L). This project, funded by USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) program ($3.7M; 2018-2022) includes participation from Virginia Tech (Blacksburg campus and Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center), University of Missouri, University of Arkansas, University of Mississippi, and three external agribusiness stakeholders. Also attending the meeting was the USDA SCRI Program Officer. ICAT project participants included Susan Duncan, Bo Zhang, and Renata Carneiro. Acknowledgements for project support included the ICAT funding support.