Russian Criminals Suspected in Cyber Attack on World’s Largest Meat Processor

Russian Criminals Suspected in Cyber Attack on World’s Largest Meat Processor
A JBS meat processing plant in Greeley, Colorado stands dormant after halting operations on June 1, 2021. (Photo: Chet Strange, Getty Images)

Russian criminals are likely behind the cyber attack on JBS Foods, the world’s largest beef and pork processor, according to the White House. The FBI has been brought in to investigate and JBS promises the “vast majority” of its meat processing facilities in the U.S. will be up and running by Wednesday.

JBS was hit with a cyber attack on Sunday and is still reeling from IT disruptions that have brought operations in many JBS meat processing plants within North America and Australia to a standstill.

“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,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday.

Details about the attack are still scarce, but Reuters and other media outlets have started describing it as a ransomware attack, though JBS has not put out an official statement explaining whether a ransom has been demanded.

Ransomware attacks can most commonly take two forms: 1) Hackers steal vital data, delete any backups, and demand money for the data to be returned. 2) Hackers steal sensitive data and demand payment so that the data isn’t released publicly. The hackers typically ask for payment through cryptocurrencies, which can be shuffled around to obscure the final recipient of the money.

JBS in the U.S. did not respond to an inquiry about any IT developments overnight but gave an optimistic statement on Tuesday, explaining that its operations in Brazil and the UK hadn’t been impacted, and insisting that the company would be up and running again on Wednesday in the U.S.

“Our systems are coming back online and we are not sparing any resources to fight this threat,” Andre Nogueira, the CEO of JBS in the United States said on Tuesday.

“We have cybersecurity plans in place to address these types of issues and we are successfully executing those plans,” Nogueira continued. “Given the progress our IT professionals and plant teams have made in the last 24 hours, the vast majority of our beef, pork, poultry and prepared foods plants will be operational tomorrow.”

JBS handles roughly 20% of America’s beef and pork production, leading to concerns about a potential spike in prices during the short term. If JBS is able to get facilities back up and running this week, there shouldn’t be too much to worry from the consumer side. But if JBS is more incapacitated than the company has let on, there could be a steep rise in costs during the barbecue season.

Meat prices in the U.S. were expected to rise this summer even before the cyber attack on JBS, as the Associated Press points out:

Even before the attack, U.S. meat prices were rising due to coronavirus shutdowns, bad weather and high plant absenteeism. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has said it expects beef prices to climb 1% to 2% this year, poultry as much as 1.5% and pork between by from 2% and 3%.

The USDA release a statement on Tuesday saying the agency was working with the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, and JBS Foods to help mitigate any supply issues that could lead to price increases for American consumers.

“As part of that effort, USDA has reached out to several major meat processors in the United States to ensure they are aware of the situation, encouraging them to accommodate additional capacity where possible, and to stress the importance of keeping supply moving,” USDA said in a press release.

JBS acknowledged that it’s been in constant contact with the U.S., Canadian, and Australian governments during this ordeal.

“I want to personally thank the White House, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Australian and Canadian governments for their assistance over the last two days,” JBS CEO Nogueira said.