The world’s largest meat processing company, JBS has been badly hit by a vicious cyber attack.
Computer Networks were hacked leading to a temporary shutdown of some of its vast operations in the US, Canada and Australia. Thousands of its employees were adversely affected by the attack.
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 which is bad news for them as their disposable income has taken a huge decline no thanks to the pandemic.
In a ransomware attack, hackers get into a computer network and threaten to cause disruption or delete files unless a ransom is paid to them.
The White House says the FBI is investigating the attack and will soon make its findings known to the members of the public.
“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.
On Wednesday Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told local media the Biden administration had been in contact with Moscow to discuss the cyber-attack.
JBS is currently the world’s biggest meat processing company with more than 150 plants in 15 countries. It was founded in 1953 in Brazil by José Batista Sobrinho who was a prominent rancher. The multinational now has more than 150,000 employees all across the world and has many supermarkets and the famous McDonalds as its customers. In the United States alone, it processes about one-quarter of its beef and one-fifth of its pork making it a dominant player in the meat industry.
JBS in an official statement said that it has made significant progress in resolving the cyber attacks and that its plants will be operational by Wednesday, June 2nd. The company said on Monday that it suspended all affected IT systems as soon as the attack was detected, and that its backup servers were not hacked.
The United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union, which represents JBS plant employees, has urged the company to ensure workers still receive their pay.
IT systems are essential in modern meat processing plants, with computers used at multiple stages including billing and shipping.
According to Beef Central which functions as a trade group ‘”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”.
Bloomberg reports that the shutdowns have halted a fifth of the meat production in the United States market which is the third largest market in the world after China and India.
Plants in Canada and Australia have also been badly affected but fortunately for them, there have been no disruptions in Latin America.
In May this year, fuel delivery in the south east of the US was severely crippled for several days after a ransom ware attack strategically targeted the colonial pipeline. Investigators opined that the attack may have been carried out by a group with sturdy ties to Russia.
Colonial Pipeline has confirmed it paid a $4.4m (£3.1m) ransom to the cyber-criminal gang responsible.
The US government has recommended in the past that companies do not pay criminals over ransomware attacks, in case they invite further hacks in the future.
The White House was informed of the attack. “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,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House principal deputy press secretary, said on Tuesday.
The FBI is investigating, Jean-Pierre said, and the USDA has engaged with other meat processing companies in the U.S. to inform them of the situation. The administration is “assessing” any potential impacts on supply, she said. President Joe Biden has told his administration to “determine what we can do to mitigate any impacts as they may become necessary,” Jean-Pierre said.
JBS USA and the Pilgrim Pride’s subsidiary said in a press release on Tuesday evening that “the vast majority of our beef, pork, poultry and prepared foods plants” will be operational on Wednesday.
“Our systems are coming back online and we are not sparing any resources to fight this threat,” the company said. “We have cybersecurity plans in place to address these types of issues and we are successfully executing those plans. Given the progress our IT professionals and plant teams have made in the last 24 hours, the vast majority of our beef, pork, poultry and prepared foods plants will be operational tomorrow.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union said that the attack affected all its meat packing facilities and all its beef plants have been shut down for the time being.
“The White House has offered help to JBS, and the administration as well as the USDA have been in touch with JBS leadership “several times,” Jean-Pierre said. She said JBS notified the administration of the apparent attack on Sunday. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is working with the FBI to provide “technical support” to JBS, Jean-Pierre said.
“Combating ransomware is a priority for the administration,” she said.
JBS controls about 23 % of the entire meat processing market in the US more than any of its competitors and the ransom ware attack will have negative implications for the diet of many Americans who rely on the company for their meat needs.
Steiner Consulting Group predicted in a research note that the hack could be a “major issue” for the country’s overall meat processing capacity, but that “much will depend on how long the disruption persists.”
“The attack on the Colonial pipeline resulted in significant gasoline shortages in some parts of the country, and we fear that stores that normally get deliveries from JBS may face a similar situation,” the firm wrote.
A source from the meat industry said it was too early to speculate about the potential hit to processing from the hack but noted that beef and pork production was already being slowed down by labour shortages.
After the colonial pipeline attack, US President Joe Biden issued an executive order calling for the upgrade to the federal government’s method of handling cyber security. Despite the fact that the order has been around for months, it didn’t address the critical infrastructure of the private firms. The order also created a new Cybersecurity Safety Review Board, led by a private-sector representative and the Department of Homeland Security, that would produce reports on cyberattacks after the fact.