Home World’s largest meatpacker, hit by cyber attack

World’s largest meatpacker, hit by cyber attack

Jun 1–Another major firm has encountered a ransomware attack. You’ve probably never heard of JBS Food, but if you eat meat, you’ve likely consumed their products. 

On Monday, the ransomware attack led to the shut down of JBS’s Australian and North American operations. JBS informed thousands of American and Canadian employees that they should not come into work the following day. The company’s US plants are located in Ottumwa, Iowa, Worthington Minnesota, Cactus, Texas and Greeley, Colorado. In Canada, plants are located in Brooks, Alberta and Calgary. 

The company reports that it is in the process of resolving the incident. “Resolution of the incident will take time, which may delay certain transactions with customers and suppliers,” said the company in a statement

Global impact of JBS shutdown

Earlier this year, the world watched as a cyber attack led to a cheese shortage in the Netherlands, disrupting food supplies. Will this incident result in similarly empty shelves and inflated prices?

The attack occurred on the heels of meat plant labor shortages due to the pandemic, and food price escalation worldwide. 

In April, the price for US beef jumped by 5% over March numbers. It was up by roughly 10% as compared to a year prior. Prices for pork and chicken are up by roughly 5.4% since last year. 

Ultimately, the degree of consumer impact will depend on the length of time for which meatpacking remains stalled. “If it lingers for multiple days, you see some food service shortages”, says expert Matthew Wiegand. 

Last year, as meatpacking processes incurred disruption due to the pandemic, some cattle and hogs on US farms were euthanized. This was to handle the backup. Will that be the modus operandi here? According to estimates, JBS controls roughly 20% of slaughtering capacity when it comes to US cattle and hogs. 

Says the company in a Facebook post, “We continue to work through the situation and will keep you informed regarding production on Wednesday”.

White House response

The White House deputy press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, stated that the Biden administration aims to evaluate “…any impacts on supply, and the President has directed the administration to determine what we can do to mitigate any impact, as they may become necessary”. 

The US has also contacted Russia’s government concerning the incident and the FBI has launched an investigation. In Canada, the country’s Department of Agriculture spoke with JBS leadership. 

In the US Congress, Rick Crawford, an Arkansas Republican, suggested bipartisan efforts to ensure food security and cyber security. “Cyber security is synonymous with national security, and so is food security,” he noted in a Twitter post

The ransomware business model

While businesses around the world have collectively lost trillions of dollars due to pandemic-related stops, starts and worker shortages, ransomware hackers have raked in prodigious sums. “Attacks are operating like a well-oiled business industry”, says IBM expert, Nick Rossmann

“Hackers are going after bigger and more high-profile targets because they know they can be successful,” says Ekram Ahmed, spokesperson for cybersecurity company Check Point Software. 

“When there are headlines out there that the Colonial pipeline actually paid $4.4 million in ransom, the ransomware business attracts new entrants. We can expect things to get worse, and I firmly believe ransomware is now a full-blown national security threat.”

For more on this story, visit Vox.