Beef and ransomware: It’s an existential threat

June 6, 2021

If you thought the only people having issues with beef were drooling, radical bhakts in a certain part of the subcontinent, prepare to be surprised. Ransomware seemingly has set its sights on the industry, far from those stereotypical government facilities, power grids, hospitals and nuclear facilities.

Just three weeks after a separate ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline disrupted the availability of gasoline and jet fuel up and down the US East Coast, a ransomware attack has struck the world’s biggest meat producer, causing it to halt some operations in the US, Canada, and Australia while threatening shortages throughout the world, including up to a fifth of the American supply.

Brazil-based JBS SA was the target of an organized cyberattack that affected servers supporting North American and Australian IT operations.

JBS is the world’s biggest producer of meat and poultry and the second-largest global producer of pork. The company operates in 15 countries. JBS Foods US, the company’s US entity, operates nine US-based beef facilities and five pork facilities. Company filings show that US sales account for half of the company’s revenue, while Australia and New Zealand represent 4 percent and Canada represents 3 percent.

The disruption to JBS is the latest reminder of the existential threat posed by ransomware. Once considered a mere nuisance, ransomware has evolved into a parasite that kills its host, as the scourge increasingly chokes infrastructure and services that are critical to safe and normal operations for millions of people.

As reported on Arstechnica, a representative with a red meat processor told Beef Central, a news service covering the Australian meat industry “Nobody could have foreseen this coming, but it represents a problem of incredible proportions for the company. All meat companies no doubt spend large amounts of money on cyber security, but it just proves how vulnerable all business may be to breaches—large or small. This will create logistical problems right up and down the supply chain.”

The five biggest JBS beef plants in the US have all halted processing since the outage hit, according to social media posts by JBS and statements from labor unions representing employees. A Canadian JBS beef plant in Brooks, Alberta, canceled shifts for a second day. The plant processes almost a third of Canada’s federally inspected cattle.

In a statement, the FBI attributed the attack on JBS SA to REvil, a Russian-speaking gang that has made some of the largest ransomware demands on record in recent months.

by Anil George
Avid follower of all things tech. In between his quest for the ultimate gizmo, Anil fiddles with light meters, collects rare books and feeds his fetish for Jap horror movies. As Managing Editor of T3 Middle East for the GCC, Anil oversees content direction across print and digital. He was a CES 2020 Innovation Awards Judge, reprising his role as an Innovation Awards Judge at CES 2018, CES 2017, 2016 and 2015. Anil is also the Middle East's first Brand Ambassador for Ashdown Engineering. Reach him at: editor@t3me.com.