This weekend, I watched a hacker jailbreak a John Deere tractor live on stage
Last Saturday, I sat in a crowded ballroom at Caesar’s Forum in Las Vegas and watched Sickcodes jailbreak a John Deere tractor’s control unit live, before an audience of cheering Defcon 30 attendees (and, possibly, a few undercover Deere execs, who often attend Sickcodes’s talks).
The presentation was significant because Deere — along with Apple — are the vanguard of the war on repair, a company that has made wild and outlandish claims about the reason that farmers must pay the company hundreds of dollars every time they fix their own tractors, and then wait for days for an authorized technician to come to their farm and type an unlock code.
Deere’s claims have included the astounding statement that the farmers who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on tractors don’t actually own those tractors, because the software that animates them is only licensed, not sold:
They’ve also claimed that locking farmers out of their tractors is for their own good, because otherwise hackers could take over those tractors and endanger the food supply. While it’s true that the John Deere tractor monopoly means that defects in the company’s products could affect farms all around the world, it’s also true that John Deere is very, very bad at information security:
The company’s insistence that they are guardians of farmers and the agricultural sector is a paper-thin cover for monopolistic practices and rent-seeking. Monopolizing the repair and reconfiguration of Deere products gives the company all kinds of little gifts — for example, they can refuse to fix the tractors of dissatisfied customers unless they agree to gag-orders:
And because so few of us understand information security, or monopoly, or agribusiness (let alone all three!)…