A recent ransomware attack on the world’s biggest meatpacker is raising questions about cybersecurity in the food industry and about whether the industry is so concentrated in a few hands it is more vulnerable to sudden shocks.
The company, Brazil-based JBS, is a giant in the meat industry, with operations all over the world. The attack forced it to shut down several plants in the U.S. and Australia, which briefly rattled beef markets. But the plants soon came back online, and JBS downplayed the impact, saying it lost less than a day’s worth of production. The company admitted it had paid $11 million in ransom to the hackers.
But according to John Hoffman, a senior research fellow at the Food Protection and Defense Institute at the University of Minnesota, the attack has continued to reverberate. Hoffman says he’s receiving a wave of inquiries about cybersecurity from industry executives who previously were inclined to disregard his warnings.
“People just didn’t accept that it was that big of a risk,” he says. “I think that’s changed today. I’ve already heard from folks in government [that] it’s changed. People are looking at this and saying, ‘OK, we’ve got to do something.’ “
According to Hoffman, many food companies’ computer systems are vulnerable. “If you go…