A ransomware attack has hit the world’s largest meat producer, halting some operations in the US, Canada and Australia, while threatening shortages around the world, including up to a fifth of US supply.
Brazil-based JBS SA said Monday it was the target of an organized cyber attack that had hit servers supporting North American and Australian IT operations. A White House spokeswoman later said the meat producer had been hit by a ransomware attack “from a criminal organization believed to be based in Russia” and that the FBI was investigating.
The weekend attack came three weeks after a separate ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline disrupted the availability of gasoline and jet fuel along the US East Coast. At the end of last year, ransomware attacks on hospitals crippled their ability to provide emergency services, just as the coronavirus was already straining their capacity.
The disruption of JBS is the last reminder of the existential threat of ransomware. Once considered a mere nuisance, ransomware has evolved into a parasite that kills its host as the scourge continues to suffocate more and more infrastructure and services essential for safe and normal operations for millions of people.
“Nobody could have foreseen this, but it represents a problem of unbelievable proportions for the company,” a representative with a red meat processor told Beef Central, a news service for the Australian meat industry. “All meat companies undoubtedly spend a lot of money on cybersecurity, but it just goes to show how vulnerable all companies can be to breaches, big or small. This creates logistical problems throughout the supply chain.”
The five largest JBS beef plants in the US have all stopped processing since the outage struck, according to JBS social media posts and statements from unions representing workers. A Canadian JBS beef factory in Brooks, Alberta, canceled services for a second day on Tuesday, union officials said. The plant processes nearly a third of Canada’s federally inspected cattle.
According to its website, JBS is the world’s largest producer of meat and poultry and the second largest producer of pork. The company is active in 15 countries. JBS Foods US, the company’s US entity, operates nine US-based beef facilities and five pork facilities. Company records show that sales in the US account for half of the company’s sales, with Australia and New Zealand accounting for 4 percent and Canada 3 percent.
JBS said its backup servers were not affected by the attack and it is actively working with an incident response company to get its systems back online as soon as possible. So far, the company has no evidence that customer or employee data has been compromised or misused. Most ransomware groups today not only lock up victims’ data, but also download it and release it publicly if the victim does not pay a ransom.
“Resolving the incident will take time, which could delay certain transactions with customers and suppliers,” JBS warned.