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The Next Big Jailbreak in Tech: John Deere Tractors

John Deere's annoying repair policy might force farmers to turn to hacking.

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Hacker Sick Code bypassed John Deere’s dealer authentication requirements.
Hacker Sick Code bypassed John Deere’s dealer authentication requirements.
Image: Mark Hirsch (Getty Images)

A hacker named Sick Codes has demonstrated a way to jailbreak John Deere tractors, which could allow farmers the opportunity to self-repair their equipment.

When you think of technological innovations, your mind might not immediately jump to the agriculture sector. As farming and agriculture continue to automate, John Deere has found a sneaky digitally gate keep diagnosis of faulty tractor parts to ensure that farmers are forced to turn to the company’s own repair services. But according to Wired, over the weekend at DefCon in Las Vegas, a hacker named Sick Codes presented a jailbreak that could put repairs back in the hands of farmers by allowing them to see past the tractor’s consumer interface.

“Farmers prefer the older equipment simply because they want reliability. They don’t want stuff to go wrong at the most important part of the year when they have to pull stuff out of the ground,” Sick Codes said to Wired. “So that’s what we should all want too. We want farmers to be able to repair their stuff for when things go wrong, and now that means being able to repair or make decisions about the software in their tractors.”

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Sick Codes told Wired that he experimented across several months with the touchscreen consoles of different John Deere tractor models to develop his jailbreak. The hack involved Sick Codes finding a way to bypass the tractor’s dealer authentication requirements, meaning that the tractor would think it was being accessed by a John Deere dealer. Here, Sick Codes found that he had access to over 1.5 gigabytes of logs that dealers could use to assess problems with the tractor—logs that a layman would never even be able to see.

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The hack brings more attention to the right-to-repair movement, which is founded on the idea that the owners of commercial electronic goods should have access to cheap repair opportunities if they can’t repair something themselves. New York state passed a right-to-repair law in June that will force digital electronics manufacturers in the state to provide customers with access to tools and instructions to repair their products.