JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker, said on Tuesday night it had made “significant progress in resolving the cyberattack.” The “vast majority” of the company’s beef, pork, poultry and prepared foods plants will be operational on Wednesday, according to a statement, easing concerns over rising food prices.
This attack demonstrates the reach of these events, shutting down meat plants in Australia and impacting meat processing in North America,” said John Hoffman, senior research fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Food Protection and Defense Institute and a retired U.S. Army Colonel.
JBS has grown from a Brazilian cattle company to a global giant operating in over six countries and that through ownership of the Swift brand became the world’s largest beef processor. In the U.S., it sells beef and pork through major retailers including Costco. “It brings home these attacks, when they occur now, are no longer local,” Hoffman said. “This is a primary protein supplier and major supplier, and simultaneous effects in North America and Australia.”
Meat processing companies have legacy operating technology systems that may have been installed decades ago and are not replaced every few years like IT systems. These OT systems running plant floors are now being connected to each other and with IT systems through new Internet of Things architecture, creating vulnerabilities for hackers to exploit. In a meat processing plant this setup can include devices like multiple digital sensors monitoring temperature and pressure and ingredients, all connected to a global network for packaging and distribution — and executive management and managers in plants using the real-time data dashboards globally — creating multiple attack points. “There is a path of least resistance to go after IT and OT systems on the plant floor that have critical dependencies on those IT systems,” Manky said. Meat processing is a low-margin business subject to greater budget limitations than early adopters of new technology, such as cloud companies and financials, and lower spending on cyber will continue to make it a likely target of more frequent attacks.
“That is an issue food supply companies will have to face,” Sheehy said. “Food security will be more front and center just like the pipeline issue.”
The cyberattack followed one last month by a group with ties to Russia on Colonial Pipeline, the largest fuel pipeline in the United States, which crippled fuel delivery for several days in the U.S. Southeast.
According to the trade group Beef Central, “supermarkets and other large end-users like the McDonald’s burger patty supply network will be some of the most immediately impacted customers, due to their need for consistent supply”.
JBS’s five biggest beef plants are in the US, and the shutdowns have halted a fifth of meat production there, according to Bloomberg.
The company believes the ransomware attack originated from a criminal group likely based in Russia, the White House said.
The attack could lead to shortages of meat or raise prices for consumers.
• The ransomware surge ruining lives
• Colonial Pipeline boss confirms $4.4m ransom paid
In a ransomware attack, hackers get into a computer network and threaten to cause disruption or delete files unless a ransom is paid. The White House says the FBI is investigating the attack. “JBS notified [the White House] that the ransom demand came from a criminal organisation likely based in Russia,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday. “The White House is engaging directly with the Russian government on this matter and delivering the message that responsible states do not harbour ransomware criminals,” she added.
JBS has a global supply chain that relies on connections as far apart as Australia (one of the largest sources of imported beef to the U.S. after Canada) to North America. JBS is the world’s largest meat supplier with more than 150 plants in 15 countries It was founded in Brazil in 1953 as a slaughtering business by rancher José Batista Sobrinho. The company now has more than 150,000 employees worldwide. Its customers include supermarkets and fast food outlet.