World’s largest meat supplier JBS hit by cyberattack

Company notified US of ransom demand from criminal organisation likely from Russia

JBS said the cyberattack affected servers supporting its operations in North America and Australia. Photograph: Chet Strange/Getty

JBS said the cyberattack affected servers supporting its operations in North America and Australia. Photograph: Chet Strange/Getty

 

A ransomware attack on the world’s largest meat processing company disrupted production around the world just weeks after a similar incident shut down a US oil pipeline.

Brazil’s JBS SA said late on Tuesday that it had made “significant progress” in dealing with the cyberattack and expected the “vast majority” of its plants to be operating on Wednesday.

Andre Nogueira, chief executive of JBS USA, said in a statement: “Our systems are coming back online and we are not sparing any resources to fight this threat.”

Earlier, the White House said JBS had notified the US of a ransom demand from a criminal organisation likely based in Russia.

White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the White House and the Department of Agriculture have been in touch with the company several times this week.

JBS is the second-largest producer of beef, pork and chicken in the US. If it were to shut down for even one day, the US would lose almost a quarter of its beef-processing capacity, or the equivalent of 20,000 beef cows, according to Trey Malone, an assistant professor of agriculture at Michigan State University.

The closures reflect the reality that modern meat processing plants are heavily automated, for both food and worker-safety reasons.

Computers collect data at multiple stages of the production process, and orders, billing, shipping and other functions are all electronic.

JBS, which has not stated publicly that the attack was ransomware, said the cyberattack affected servers supporting its operations in North America and Australia.

Backup servers were not affected and it said it was not aware of any customer, supplier or employee data being compromised.

Meat prices

Mr Malone said the disruption could further raise meat prices ahead of summer barbecues. Even before the attack, US meat prices were rising due to coronavirus shutdowns, bad weather and high plant absenteeism.

The US Department of Agriculture has said it expects beef prices to climb 1 per cent to 2 per cent this year, poultry as much as 1.5 per cent and pork between by from 2 per cent and 3 per cent.

JBS did not say which of its 84 US facilities were closed on Monday and Tuesday because of the attack.

Earlier, a union official confirmed that two shifts at the company’s largest US beef plant, in Greeley, Colorado, were cancelled. Some plant shifts in Canada were also cancelled Monday and Tuesday, according to JBS Facebook posts.

In Australia, thousands of meat plant workers had no work for a second day on Tuesday, and a government minister said it might be days before production resumes.

JBS is Australia’s largest meat and food processing company, with 47 facilities across the country including slaughterhouses, feedlots and meat processing sites.

Ms Jean-Pierre said the White House “is engaging directly with the Russian government on this matter and delivering the message that responsible states do not harbour ransomware criminals”.

The FBI is investigating the incident, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is offering technical support to JBS.

The incident comes a month after a gang of hackers shut down operation of the Colonial Pipeline, the largest US fuel pipeline, for nearly a week.

The closure sparked long lines and panic buying at gas stations across the country’s southeast. Colonial Pipeline confirmed it paid $4.4 million (€3.6 million) to the hackers. – AP