Ransomware disrupts meat plants in latest attack on critical US business

  • >> Julie Creswell, Nicole Perlroth and Noam Scheiber, The New York Times
    Published: 2021-06-02 11:49:09 BdST

A general view of the JBS USA Worthington pork plant in Minnesota, US, Oct 28, 2020. REUTERS

A cyberattack on the world’s largest meat processor forced the shutdown of nine beef plants in the United States on Tuesday, according to union officials, and disrupted production at poultry and pork plants. The attack could upset the nation’s meat markets and raises new questions about the vulnerability of critical American businesses.

The company, JBS, said the majority of its plants would reopen on Wednesday. But even one day’s disruption at JBS could “significantly impact” wholesale beef prices, according to analysts at Daily Livestock Report.

The breach at JBS was a ransomware attack, the White House said — the second recent such attack to freeze up a critical US business operation. Last month, a ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, which transports gas to nearly half the East Coast, triggered gas and jet-fuel shortages and panic buying.

JBS, which is based in Brazil and accounts for one-fifth of the daily US cattle harvest, said in a statement late Tuesday that it had made “significant progress resolving the cyberattack.”

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

The Department of Agriculture said Tuesday that it was working with other producers to help minimise any shortages.

All nine JBS beef plants in the United States were shut down on Tuesday, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents workers at JBS beef and pork factories. The company’s poultry and pork plants in the United States posted on Facebook that they had cancelled shifts or altered production scheduled for Monday or Tuesday, with some of them citing “IT issues.”

In addition to the company’s US plants, the shutdowns affected 2,500 workers at a beef plant in Brooks, Alberta, according to Scott Payne, a spokesperson for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 in Canada.

Karine Jean-Pierre, a White House deputy press secretary, told reporters on Air Force One on Tuesday that JBS had told the Biden administration that it was a ransomware attack, and that the ransom demand had come from “a criminal organisation likely based in Russia.”

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