Cyber theft a growing threat (Editorial)
Another shake-up in the meat industry is again exposing vulnerabilities in the food supply chain and adding a new layer of needed sustainability to all its links.
JBS, the world’s largest beef producer, which accounts for about 25 percent of the U.S. beef market, suffered a ransomware attack that began Sunday, May 30, idling several of its meatpacking plants for a few days.
The attack came just weeks after cybersecurity was breached at Colonial Pipeline, leading to a temporary fuel shortage that reverberated into the hauling side of the meat industry, which is still working with relatively tight supply from the COVID-19 related shutdowns of last year.
It’s not the first time a ransomware attack has targeted a food company.
Last November, Italy-based Campari Group said it was the victim of a ransomware attack that caused a temporary technology outage and compromised some business and personal data.
In March, Molson Coors announced a cyber attack that affected its production and shipping. Molson Coors said it was able to get some of its breweries running after 24 hours; others took several days.
Ransomware expert Brett Callow, a threat analyst at the security firm Emsisoft, said companies like JBS make ideal targets.
“They play a critical role in the food supply chain and threat actors likely believe this increases their chances of getting a speedy payout,” Callow told the Associated Press.
Farms are not immune to cybersecurity threats either, two FBI agents said during an online symposium held by F3 Tech, a program within the Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center in Easton, Md., on April 14.
From computer hacking to inside theft, farms are just as vulnerable as high-profile corporations to thieves and cyber criminals, they said.
“When something seems different, seems off, seems out of character, that’s something that everyone needs to pay attention to,” said David Ring, chief of the FBI’s cyber division, during F3 Tech’s CyberAg Symposium.
Ransomware, where hackers access a business’s computer network, lock it up and demand a ransom to set it free and so-called “business e-mail compromise,” where scammers send e-mails masquerading as a senior colleague or a company’s trusted vendor, asking for payments to go to a new account — theirs, are two of the most common forms of cyber theft, the agents said.
They recommended reporting sketchy e-mails to the FBI, but also using difficult-to-crack passwords with numbers and symbols to deter hackers and keeping an independent backup to prevent you from having to pay a ransom, which may not even get your network unlocked anyway.
The constant barrage of threats makes protecting these electronic assets more important, just like the measures farmers take to protect their natural resources and their business’ bottom line to stay viable.
Many used the JBS attack to advocate for a more decentralized meat industry, and while there is some merit to that argument, the impact on consumers appeared to be mostly contained as plants were not down more than a couple of days.
Meat processers are used to dealing with delays because of a host of factors, including industrial accidents and power outages, and they make up lost production with extra shifts, Mark Jordan, who follows the meat industry as the executive director of Leap Market Analytics, told the Associated Press.
“Several plants owned by a major meatpacker going offline for a couple of days is a major headache, but it is manageable assuming it doesn’t extend much beyond that,” he said.
In a statement, JBS said the cyberattack affected servers supporting its operations in North America and Australia.
The company said it notified authorities and engaged third-party experts to resolve the problem as soon as possible. Backup servers weren’t affected.
If the backups had been affected and lengthened the plant shutdowns to a week or more, what was one company’s “major headache” could have sent the whole industry to the emergency room.