FBI warns food and ag sector of ransomware attacks

FBI warns food and ag sector of ransomware attacks
Sep 03, 2021

Four attacks have taken place this year

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is warning companies in the food and agriculture sector of possible ransomware attacks.

A Sept. 1 Private Industry Notification notes ransomware (where hackers lock users out of computer networks then ask for a payment before giving back access) attacks in the industry disrupt operations, cause financial loss, and negatively impact the food supply chain.

The food and agriculture sector are at risk because of increasing technology.

As businesses adopt smart technology and the internet of things, hackers may target them regardless of size.

“Larger businesses are targeted based on their perceived ability to pay higher ransom demands, while smaller entities may be seen as soft targets, particularly those in the earlier stages of digitizing their processes,” the FBI said in its alert, citing a private industry report.

The U.S. food and agriculture sector has experienced at least four ransomware attacks in 2021.

In March, for example, Molson Coors suffered an attack forcing the company to take its systems offline to prevent any further damage.

And in May, hackers from a well-known Russian outlet named REvil Group forced the temporary shut downs of five JBS meat processing plants in the United States, one in Australia and one in Canada.

The shutdown reduced the volume of hogs and cattle processed and increased wholesale meat prices by about 25 percent, the FBI said in its alert.

To regain access to its systems, JBS paid a ransom of about $11 million-worth of bitcoin in June.

“This was a very difficult decision to make for our company and for me personally,” Andre Nogueira, CEO of JBS USA said in a June 9 statement. “However, we felt this decision had to be made to prevent any potential risk for our customers.”

The FBI is encouraging businesses in the sector to take steps to protest sensitive data and computer systems.

This includes regular backing up data and protecting them offline, installing updates as soon as they are released, using strong passwords and changing them regularly.

Members of the ag sector are doing what they can to stay ahead of any potential cyber attacks.

"After the recent attacks on meat processing facilities, there has been even more awareness in the food sector on cyber security risks," Jane DeMarchi, president of the North American Millers' Association, told Farms.com in an emailed statement. "We are keeping our members up to date on the latest recommendations from (the Department of Homeland Security) and providing additional educational opportunities for them on this issue."

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