Hackers Attack World's Biggest Meat Supplier, Forcing Plants To Temporarily Shut Down

The incident is just the latest in a long line of cyber-attacks that have hit vital infrastructure and services in the US. Image credit: Mehmet Cetin/Shutterstock.com

The world's largest meat processing company has been hammered by a serious cyber-attack, forcing the billion-dollar company to temporarily shut down slaughterhouses and plants across parts of its beefy empire. 

It's too early to judge the impact of the attack, but there’s some talk of the incident causing minor disruption to local supply chains. Further afield, the hack clearly highlights how key infrastructure, from national security to food security, can be desperately vulnerable to cybersecurity threats.

JBS, a multinational meat processing company headquartered in Brazil, was subject to a ransomware attack on Sunday, as per the White House. In a ransomware attack, hackers get into a computer network and threaten to leak, disrupt, or delete files unless a ransom is paid. 

The attack forced many of the corporation's abattoirs and meat-packing plants to close their doors, halting work for around 7,000 abattoir workers in Australia, as well as 3,000 workers in Canada and the US, the Financial Times reports. Operations in Mexico and the UK were said to have been unphased and business continued as usual. On Tuesday, three days after the initial attack, JBS indicated some of its plants remained shut, but “several” of their food plants had opened and its Canada beef facility resumed production.

The US White House revealed information about the cyberattack at a media briefing on Tuesday, explaining how they believe the hackers were “from a criminal organization likely based in Russia.”

“The White House is engaging directly with the Russian government on this matter and delivering the message that responsible states do not harbor ransomware criminals. The FBI is investigating the incident and CISA is coordinating with the FBI to offer technical support to the company in recovering from the ransomware attack,” Karine Jean-Pierre, White House spokesperson, said on Tuesday.

JBS is the world's largest meat supplier, supplying beef, chicken, and pork to a host of supermarkets and fast-food restaurants across dozens of countries. The knock-on effect from the disruption hasn’t yet emerged, but some parts of the world might see some supply problems given the breadth of JBS’s influence. 

“Supermarkets and other large end-users like the McDonald’s burger pattie supply network will be some of the most immediately impacted customers, due to their need for consistent supply, if the current stoppage lasts for any significant length of time,” trade group Beef Central said

The incident is just the latest in a long line of cyber-attacks that have hit vital infrastructure and services in the US. On May 7, 2021, a ransomware cyberattack was launched against the Colonial Pipeline, an oil pipeline system that carries gas and jet fuel across the Southeastern United States. The requested ransom of 75 bitcoin (approximately $5 million at the time) was paid to the hackers within hours of the attack. The culprits were found to be a Russia-based black hat group called DarkSide that is believed to have extracted $46 million in ransom payments in 2021 already.

In an especially sensational cyber-attack, hackers remotely gained access to a Florida water treatment plant in February 2021 and attempted to increase the amount of sodium hydroxide in the water to “potentially dangerous” levels. Fortunately, no one was harmed in the incident, but authorities did warn it was just a matter of time before another similar attack of infrastructure was launched.

 


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