Meatpacking plants may rely on lots of human hands, but they also rely on functional computer systems.
On Sunday, according to a report from Fabiana Batista, Michael Hirtzer and Mike Dorning at Bloomberg, JBS, the world’s largest producer of meat, suffered a significant cyber attack. That attack forced the company to shut down several meat processing plants and attracted the attention of the White House.
According to the Bloomberg report, JBS—based in Brazil, but with substantial operations in the United States, Canada, Australia and elsewhere—notified the White House on Sunday that they had suffered a cyber attack. The attack, according to a press release from JBS, affected the IT servers of North American and Australian operations, though JBS notes that its backup servers were unaffected.
The White House described the attack as a ransomware attack, coming from a “criminal group, likely tied to Russia.” Ransomware is an extortion scheme wherein the victim’s data or operations are either locked via encryption, so they can’t be used or threatened to be published publicly, unless a ransom is paid. On Tuesday, deputy White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also described the attack as ransomware.
In response to the attack, JBS shut down five of its US plants, including its largest, in Greeley, Colorado, which employs more than 3,000 people. These plants account for about a fifth of the country’s beef output, according to the Bloomberg report. In Australia, the entire country’s beef and lamb processing operations connected to JBS were shut down.
Beef supplies were already limited as a result of various COVID-19-related issues, including reductions in slaughter numbers and bottlenecks in processing.
This is the second major ransomware attack in recent weeks, the other being that of the Colonial Pipeline, which that company was forced to shut down in the eastern United States.