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Ukrainians remotely control stolen farm equipment

FILE - Farmers operate tractors while sowing corn seeds in a field in the Rostov region, Russia April 29, 2022. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov

FILE - Farmers operate tractors while sowing corn seeds in a field in the Rostov region, Russia April 29, 2022. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov

Published May 3, 2022

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Johannesburg - After stealing farm equipment from a dealership in occupied Melitopol and hauling it across the country, Russian troops will have been unable to use their new tractors and harvesters.

According to a report by CNN, the American-made vehicles’ software was remotely accessed and locked down by the original Ukrainian owners.

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Melitopol is a city in south-eastern Ukraine and has been under military occupation since March.

A source has told CNN that after the occupation began, Russian troops began to gradually seize more vehicles from local farm equipment dealership Agrotek.

This began with two combine harvesters, a tractor and a seeder and continued until all 27 of the dealership’s pieces of farm machinery were removed.

With some of the individual machines worth almost R5 million, the total loss has been reported as nearly R80 million.

As the world moves to make everything internet-connected, cloud-computed and intimately tracked, agricultural equipment and not been left behind.

John Deere, the American-owned manufacturers of the looted vehicles, has already received press attention for software that prevents individuals from repairing or modifying their vehicles.

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The stolen farm machinery contains a receiver that allows it to be GPS tracked as well as software that can be remotely accessed.

This software is integrated with the machine and John Deere has previously used it to deactivate vehicles in China, though purportedly because of “financial terms” rather than theft.

The GPS location of the vehicles showed that some had been taken to a nearby village and others were hauled over 1 000 kilometres east to Chechnya.

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While the stolen vehicles have been locked down and will be unusable for the time being, few security measures are unbeatable.

People have been looking for ways to bypass technologies like these (referred to as digital rights management) since printer ink cartridges started lying about when they were empty.

CNN’s source already reports that the thieves have “found consultants in Russia who are trying to bypass the protection”.

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