Farmers in the USA are forced to break into tractors just to fix them

People began to grow food about 10,000 years ago, but the ancient Sapiens could not imagine that in the future, to harvest corn, they would first have to install a pirated Ukrainian firmware, and then sort out the OBD-II protocol trouble codes.

Usually “hackers” are computer security specialists looking for vulnerabilities in IT systems. But in the United States, ordinary farmers are now forced to break into their own equipment just to keep it working.

Habré has already written about this absurd situation. John Deere and other major manufacturers make it as difficult for farmers to repair themselves as possible. The logic is about the same as that of Apple: they say, only certified specialists from branded centers can provide high service, so diagnostic tools cannot be distributed to everyone, but only to authorized dealers.

Farmers are only the first to be hurt. This is a kind of vanguard of the resistance. In the future, not only farmers, but everyone else may become victims of such a policy, if corporations introduce similar restrictions on the repair of cars, laptops, smartphones, TVs. The whole world is gradually becoming “smart”, so the list will expand. Each of us will have to make a choice: either submit to the terms of the corporation to use its device, or become a hacker.

The products we use in everyday life are becoming more technological, so we are increasingly dependent on computer systems. Companies understand this – and strive to retain control of the software after the sale so that all renovations are profitable. There are three main items of income: 1) sale of components; 2) service centers; 3) certification of partners. At their expense, the manufacturer significantly increases the margin. Instead of the low margin of 5-10% of the usual “dumb” manufacturer, advanced modern business gets 40-50% from each device due to the added value. This is how the top brands of the 21st century like Tesla and Apple differ from conventional manufacturers like Ford and Huawei: they build their business on intellectual property, which generates much more profit than a “dumb” manufacture.

But due to the fact that all systems are controlled by a computer, the farmer cannot repair the equipment on his own, because he does not have access to proprietary diagnostic tools. He will have to deliver the tractor to an authorized dealer (tens of kilometers away) or wait for a technician from John Deere to arrive.

For example, one of the farmers told a case: the drive belts, judging by the on-board computer, lost tension – and they had to wait all day for the official representative of the company to arrive: “The technician has arrived. It took him several hours to diagnose that one sensor had failed. Just one small sensor, and it cost $ 120, ”complains a thrifty farmer.

Farmers were the first victims of the “refurbishment ban” as much of the farm equipment requires constant maintenance.

Companies like John Deere make “unauthorized” repairs as difficult as possible by forcing them to go to authorized dealers. Farmers view this corporate strategy as an infringement on their legal property rights. Therefore, a massive hacking of tractors began.

Now, all over the American hinterland, disgruntled farmers are using firmware from Eastern Europe to hack (they say that from Poland and Belarus). Hacker software is sold on forums where invites are used.

Clandestine sites sell other diagnostic utilities, payload files, and Electronic Data Link (EDL) firmware that communicate with the tractor controller. There are also license key generators, maximum speed limit modifiers, reverse engineering cables that allow the tractor to be controlled from a computer.

And this is not a violation of the law. In October 2015, all ground vehicles, including tractors, were exempted from the DMCA, so it is now completely legal to break into your vehicle.

While pirated firmware is legal, that doesn’t mean it’s safe, reliable, or user-friendly. This is why the community is pushing hard for the official firmware to be revealed. The Right to Repair movement is demanding legislation that requires manufacturers to sell parts, tools and information systems to consumers and independent workshops. The point is that if the repair does not require the manufacturer’s permission, the procedure will become much cheaper.

The same sensor in the example above could be bought by a farmer from a radio engineering store for $ 2 and soldered on his own, instead of paying the dealer $ 120 for diagnostics and repairs. Or even turn off these unnecessary sensors, without which the tractors worked normally for a hundred years.

Hacking of tractors in the United States has become commonplace due to new technologies, and manufacturers are to blame. “In the old days, repairs required a wrench, hammer and pry bar,” says engineer Kevin Kenny. “Today, all systems are controlled by firmware, so software is needed just to start, activate and calibrate the equipment.”

Today, at least 20 states are considering the Right to Repair Act, which is promoted by the Repair Association. It is hoped that the legislation will work and will create a fairer ecosystem for the repair and upgrade of equipment.

Repair Association activists believe that if twenty states pass rights to repair laws, it will set a precedent for other industries. For example, it will help the community of Tesla owners who are also fighting for such a right.