Farmers turn to hackers to save them from tractor makers

US farmers are paying Eastern European hackers to crack their tractors so that they can actually repair them.

Tractor maker John Deere puts locks on its tractors because it does not want farmers to  perform “unauthorised” repairs on farm equipment. It wants the farmers to wait for one of its dealers to show up and repair it. They are also worried that the tractor maker could remotely shut down a tractor and there wouldn’t be anything a farmer could do about it.

A licence agreement John Deere required farmers to sign in October forbids nearly all repair and modification to farming equipment, and prevents farmers from suing for “crop loss, lost profits, loss of goodwill, loss of use of equipment … arising from the performance or non-performance of any aspect of the software”.

The agreement applies to anyone who turns the key or otherwise uses a John Deere tractor with embedded software. It means that only John Deere dealerships and “authorised” repair shops can work on newer tractors.

However this does not sit well with farmers who feel that if they have bought a tractor they should be allowed to do with it what they like. So they go to some dodgy part of the internet and pay for a crack from the nice man in the Ukraine.

This saves a fortune in time and money. If you want to replace a transmission and you take it to an independent mechanic—he can put in the new transmission but the tractor can’t drive out of the shop. Deere charges $230, plus $130 an hour for a technician to drive out and plug a connector into their USB port to authorise the part.