GREELEY, Colo. — The frightening trend of cyberattacks on big business happened again May 30. This time striking the world’s largest meat processing company: JBS.
JBS is a worldwide company and now the largest victim of this type of attack on the company’s systems in Australia.
Thousands of workers in Australia were out of work for several days as the company and government entities worked to resolve the disruption in its IT systems.
“Despite the fact that JBS accounts for around 20 percent of our processing production here in Australia, we’re not expecting there to be significant impacts on exports so long as this isn’t a protracted shutdown,” Australian Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said in an Associated Press report. Littleproud added that the Australian government and Australian Federal Police were working with JBS to track those responsible for the cyber hack.
Exports are vital to the company in Australia. Roughly 70 percent of production in the nation is exported. However, about 4 percent of the JBS global revenue is comprised of Australian and New Zealand production, wire reports said.
In the United States, JBS USA and Pilgrim’s, which are based in Greeley, Colo. said it was not an extremely long shut down and have not detected any evidence of employee, customer or supplier data being compromised.
In a statement, the company said that its, “swift response, robust IT systems and encrypted backup servers allowed for a rapid recovery. As a result, JBS USA and Pilgrim’s were able to limit the loss of food produced during the attack to less than one day’s worth of production. Any lost production across the company’s global business will be fully recovered (as of approximately June 11), limiting any potential negative impact on producers, consumers and the company’s workforce.”
Andre Nogueira, CEO of JBS USA, added: “The criminals were never able to access our core systems, which greatly reduced potential impact. Today, we are fortunate that all of our facilities around the globe are operating at normal capacity, and we are focused on fulfilling our responsibility to produce safe, high-quality food.”
The company also contacted federal government officials in the United States to assist with cybersecurity procedures. This included shutting down all systems, isolating the attack and limiting its infection in an effort to protect the core computer systems.
JBS confirmed “the company’s encrypted backup servers, which were not infected during the attack, allowed for a return to operations sooner than expected. JBS USA and Pilgrim’s prioritized restoring systems critical to production to ensure that food supply chain, producers and consumers were not adversely impacted.”
This cyberattack comes not long after a similar attack affecting the Colonial Pipeline and disrupting the flow of gasoline in many parts of the United States.
“This is the most recent incident in a disturbing trend of cyberattacks that show just how fragile and vulnerable our supply chains and critical infrastructure are,” said Amit Yoran, CEO of cybersecurity company Tenable, in a statement of this current event. “The Colonial Pipeline attack shut down systems that supply 45 percent of the Eastern United States’ fuel, and the JBS hack has resulted in the shutdown of some of the largest meat processing plants in the world.”
Yoran continued: “These attacks have very tangible impacts that affect large swaths of the population…it cannot be emphasized enough how critical it is that we understand cyber risk, especially in critical business processes. The foundation of our global food supply chains, transportation systems and more are under attack because cybercriminals realize how disruptive and lucrative attacks targeting these systems can be.”
Prior to his current post, Yoran was the director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s National Cyber Security Division in 2003.
He said, “As more organizations undergo rapid digital transformation, we continue to see IT systems completely intertwined with operational technology, which brings increased risk to critical infrastructure everywhere.”
The meat processing industry relies on and requires a steady flow from farm to plant to keep the supply chains running smoothly. As the global pandemic showed, if there is havoc in the system, meat production is greatly impacted on its path from farm to table.
“From conception to consumption, the meat industry is highly coordinated,” said James Lowe, director of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine I-Learning Center. “Producers raise animals based on consumer demand. U.S. meat processing plants typically run at 100 percent capacity. Any glitch has a ripple effect.”
As an example, Lowe said that for JBS the company has a pork processing plant in Beardstown, Ill., that produces approximately 20,000 pigs every day. These pigs are contracted at an established weight for processing.
“If we don’t harvest the pigs at Beardstown today, they have to be harvested later,” Lowe said. “The pig continues to gain weight, and we run out of days to process this perishable commodity.”
The nation’s poultry industry runs in a similar fashion. Todd Gleason, a University of Illinois Extension broadcaster, added “The protein supply chain is tightly coordinated and efficient. Any disruption has an impact on the ability of the system to continue moving product.”