How Capitalism Makes Us Less Safe

Our desperate attempts at profiteering and monopolization render us all more vulnerable to death and disaster

Douglas Rushkoff

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Photo by Walter Sturn on Unsplash

The greatest security threat in America today is probably John Deere.

Yes, the tractor company poses a more immediate and present danger to our lives than any of the top secret files Donald Trump stole (and maybe sold) to foreign governments. As my fellow Medium writer Cory Doctorow pointed out in this recent piece, the company has designed its tractors so that they can’t be serviced or reconfigured except by an authorized technician with the right computer codes.

Let’s leave aside for a moment that the company is arguing that farmers paying $600k for a piece of equipment don’t actually “own” it. Or that the company can refuse to fix a dissatisfied farmer’s tractor unless they agree to a gag order about the company’s practices. Or that John Deere’s remote kill switches give the company the ability to lock farmers out of their own tractors—a feature the company celebrated by bricking equipment that was seized by Russia in Ukraine.

The bigger problem is that the code John Deere uses to maintain exclusive control over farmers’ equipment is actually quite insecure. As Doctorow puts it, “a dumpster-fire of information security worst practices.” At Defcon last month, he watched as a hacker named Sickcodes jailbroke a John Deere tractor live on stage. This means that just as John Deere could lock any farmer out of their own tractor, anywhere in the world, a hacker anywhere in the world could lock virtually the entire American farming industry out of its equipment.

They are making “the insulation equation”: they believe they are earning enough extra money through these dangerous practices to buy and hoard food if and when the agricultural catastrophe occurs.

That’s because John Deere not only has machines that can be locked by a malicious hacker (or government, terrorist, or enterprising North Korean high school student), it also has a monopoly on American farm equipment, having purchased or eliminated the competition. Both the company’s…

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Douglas Rushkoff

Author of Survival of the Richest, Team Human, Program or Be Programmed, and host of the Team Human podcast http://teamhuman.fm