Just like many industries moving to an increasingly digital world, agribusiness needs resources and strategies to protect biological and data sources from potential cyber-attacks, such as unauthorized data injection and unauthorized control of automated systems. The U.S. food and agricultural system influences more than 20 percent of the nation’s economy and 15 percent of American jobs, making public trust essential.

To address these cyberbiosecurity issues, the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is hosting a virtual conference on Oct. 6-7 called Securing Agriculture, Food, and its Economy (SAFE) with Cyberbiosecurity.

The free event is aimed at food and agricultural leaders in policy and regulatory leadership at the federal and state level, industry leaders, commodity representation, academic research, and education leaders, as well as the cybersecurity, biotechnology, and supplier industries to the food and agricultural system.

To register and learn more, visit the workshop webpage.

During the workshop, thought leaders and influencers will discuss common food and agricultural system challenges, scenarios, outcomes, and risks to various sectors of the system. They will discuss cyberbiosecurity strategies for the system, gaps in workforce and training, and research and policy needs. This workshop invites a high-level and integrated conversation of the food, agriculture, and cybersecurity industries and academic community to address the security of our nation's bioeconomy

Bettina Ring, Virginia secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, and Steve McKnight, Virginia Tech vice-president of strategic alliances will introduce the importance of cyberbiosecurity to the future of our national security.

The featured keynote speaker is Steven L. Evans, a key author on the 2020 National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report on safeguarding the bioeconomy. He will address the importance of securing our agriculture and food system for protecting the economy. Evans has 30 years of experience bringing biotechnology products to the field in small and large companies and whose research blends explores agricultural and environmental applications of biotechnology.

Experts from the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction division will address the very real threats for food and agriculture and the importance of developing cyberbiosecurity strategies to protect our agriculture and food enterprise.

FBI experts include:

  • Stephen W. Goldsmith, a management program analyst in the FBI WMD Directorate, Chemical-Biological Countermeasures unit, in Washington, D.C., who serves as a subject matter expert for veterinary, animal, plant, and public health programs;
  • FBI Special Agent Scott R. Nawrocki, who is assigned to the Newark Division Cyber Intrusion Task Force and investigates computer intrusions with a focus on threats to the biotechnology sector.

Perspectives on the importance of bridging the digital, physical, and biological systems for protecting the agriculture and food industries, supported with workforce development and education, will be provided by industry and academic leaders including:

  • Robert Reinhard, vice president for food safety, quality, and technical services for Tyson Foods;
  • Eddie Schwartz, the chief information and security officer for block.one, which offers high-performance blockchain solutions;
  • Asha M. George, a world-renowned public health expert who is the executive director of the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense. George previously served in the U.S. House of Representatives as subcommittee staff director and senior professional staff at the Committee on Homeland Security;
  • Randy Murch, research lead for the Virginia Tech Office of Vice President for Strategic Alliances and formerly of the FBI and the Institute for Defense Analyses;
  • Diane DiEuliis, a senior research fellow at National Defense University, whose research areas focus on emerging biological technologies, biodefense, and preparedness for biothreats;
  • Luiz A. DaSilva, the executive director of the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative and the Bradley Professor of Cybersecurity at Virginia Tech; 
  • Marian Merritt, lead for industry engagement for the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education at the National Institute for Standards and Technology;
  • Ann E. Stapleton, a national program leader in the Institute of Food Production and Sustainability, Division of Plant Systems – Production within the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The event is being sponsored by the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station, the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Tyson Foods, and Southwest Virginia node of the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative.