JBS: Cyber-attack hits world's largest meat supplier

10 Jun 2021

Last week, the world’s largest meat supplier, JBS, experienced a cyberattack that temporarily shut down some of its operations in Australia, Canada and the U.S., leading to fears of a meat shortage. In the days following the attack, the Brazilian meat processor resumed its operations, but various media outlets reported cybersecurity expert testimony that the company still had vulnerabilities that exposed it to future attacks of this kind.

The FBI attributed this attack on JBS SA to REvil, a Russia-linked group that is known for large ransomware demands. Ransomware is malware that halts system functionality through the encryption of files. Groups that issue the malware hold these systems hostage until the intended victim makes a payment to unlock them.

JBS: Cyber-attack hits world's largest meat supplier

Freezing JBS’s systems is a big deal for dozens of retailers and foodservice locations worldwide. In the U.S. alone, JBS processes about one-quarter of the country's beef and one-fifth of its pork. Bloomberg reported that this attack paused one-fifth of the company’s meat production as JBS's five largest beef plants are located in that country.

JBS said that data for customers, suppliers and employees were not compromised during the attack.

While the food and beverage sector is not a traditional target for malware attacks, it is becoming one in part due to the industry’s low barrier to entry. Manufacturing, supply chain and agriculture are not known for robust cybersecurity infrastructures due to lack of investment in technology and little regulation, and attackers are paying attention to this relatively easy point of entry into critical infrastructure. REvil specifically published an online interview stating that the agriculture sector is now its primary target for ransomware attacks, NPR reported.

With such quantities of meat flowing through these processing facilities, having operations frozen through halting operational software is something that major food suppliers like JBS need to bear in mind going forward. It is not known whether JBS paid the ransom for this most recent attack, however, it is likely that the company will be spending more on its cybersecurity going forward.

A 2018 audit of the company’s IT infrastructure and security systems revealed exploitable weaknesses in the company’s technology, Beef Magazine reported. While the multinational company did not take sufficient measures to shore up its systems at that time, this recent attack will likely have far-reaching and global implications as to how JBS views the importance of its cybersecurity.

The company’s South American operations were not disrupted by this attack on its network.

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