A ransomware attack hit the world’s largest meat producer, causing some operations in the US, Canada and Australia to be suspended while global shortages loomed, including up to a fifth of American supply.
Brazil-based JBS SA said Monday that it was the target of an organized cyber attack that affected servers that support North American and Australian IT operations. A White House spokeswoman later said the meat producer was hit by a ransomware attack “by a criminal organization likely based in Russia” and the FBI is investigating.
The weekend attack came three weeks after a separate ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline cut the availability of gasoline and kerosene along the US east coast. Late last year, ransomware attacks on hospitals hampered their ability to provide emergency services while the coronavirus was already straining their capacities.
The JBS disruption 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 stifles infrastructure and services critical to the safe and normal operation of millions of people.
“No one could have foreseen this, but it is an incredible problem for the company,” a red meat processor representative told Beef Central, an intelligence service for the Australian meat industry. “All meat companies are undoubtedly spending a lot of money on cybersecurity, but it just goes to show how vulnerable all companies can be to a security breach, large or small. This leads to logistical problems along the entire supply chain. “
The five largest JBS beef factories in the U.S. have all stopped processing since the outage, according to social media posts from JBS and statements from unions representing the workers. A Canadian JBS beef factory in Brooks, Alberta canceled shifts for a second day on Tuesday, union officials said. The facility processes nearly a third of Canada’s state-controlled cattle.
According to its website, JBS is the world’s largest 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 subsidiary, operates nine US-based beef and five pork operations. Company filings show that US sales account for half of company sales, while Australia and New Zealand account for 4 percent and Canada for 3 percent.
JBS said that its backup servers were not affected by the attack and that 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 these days not only lock victims’ data, but also download and publicly release it if the victim does not pay the ransom.
“The incident will take some time to resolve, which can delay certain transactions with customers and suppliers,” warned JBS.