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Meat producer JBS says most factories will operate Wednesday after ransomware attack

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – A ransomware attack on the world’s largest meat processing company disrupted production around the world just weeks after a U.S. pipeline was shut down by a similar incident.

Brazilian company JBS SA, however, said on Tuesday evening that it had made “significant progress” in the fight against the cyberattack and expects the “vast majority” of its factories to be operational on Wednesday.

“Our systems are coming back online and we are sparing no resources to combat this threat,” Andre Nogueira, CEO of JBS USA, said in a statement.

Earlier, the White House said JBS notified the United States of a ransom demand from a criminal organization likely based in Russia. White House senior deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the White House and the Department of Agriculture had been in contact with the company on several occasions this week.

JBS is the second largest producer of beef, pork and chicken in the United States. to Trey Malone, assistant professor of agriculture at Michigan State University.

The closures reflect the reality that modern meat processing plants are highly automated, both for food safety and worker safety reasons. Computers collect data at many stages of the production process, and ordering, invoicing, shipping, and other functions are all electronic.

JBS, which has not publicly declared the attack to be ransomware, said the cyberattack affected servers supporting its operations in North America and Australia. The backup servers were not affected and he said he was not aware of any compromised customer, supplier or employee data.

Malone said the disruption could further increase meat prices ahead of summer barbecues. Even before the attack, meat prices in the United States were rising due to coronavirus closures, bad weather and high absenteeism at factories. The US Department of Agriculture has said it expects prices for beef to climb 1% to 2% this year, poultry up to 1.5% and pork between 2% and 3%. %.

JBS, which is the majority shareholder of Pilgrim’s Pride, did not say which of its 84 U.S. facilities were closed on Monday and Tuesday due to the attack. He said JBS USA and Pilgrim’s were able to ship meat from almost all of their facilities on Tuesday. The company also said it was making progress towards resuming the plant’s operations in the United States and Australia. Several of the company’s pork, poultry and prepared food plants were operational on Tuesday and its Canadian beef plant resumed production, he said.

Earlier Tuesday, a union official confirmed that two shifts at the company’s largest U.S. beef plant, in Greeley, Colo., Had been canceled. Some factory changes in Canada were also canceled on Monday and Tuesday, according to JBS posts on Facebook.

In Australia, thousands of workers at meat processing plants were out of work for a second day on Tuesday, and a government minister said it could be several 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.

Jean-Pierre said the White House “is engaging directly with the Russian government on this issue and conveying the message that responsible states are not harboring ransomware criminals.” The FBI is investigating the incident and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is providing technical support to JBS.

In addition, the USDA has spoken to several major meat processors in the United States to alert them to the situation, and the White House is assessing any potential impact on the country’s meat supply.

JBS has more than 150,000 employees worldwide.

This is not the first time that a ransomware attack has targeted a food company. Last November, Milan-based Campari Group said it was the victim of a ransomware attack that caused a temporary technology outage and compromised some business and personal data.

In March, Molson Coors announced a cyberattack that affected its production and shipping. Molson Coors said she was able to get some of her breweries up and running after 24 hours; others took several days.

Ransomware expert Brett Callow, a threat analyst for security firm Emsisoft, said companies like JBS are ideal targets.

“They play a vital role in the food supply chain and threat actors probably think this increases their chances of getting paid promptly,” Callow said.

Mark Jordan, who follows the meat industry as executive director of Leap Market Analytics, said the disruption could be minimal assuming JBS recovers in the coming days. Meat processors are used to dealing with delays due to many factors, including industrial accidents and power outages, and they are making up for lost production with additional crews, he said.

“Several factories owned by a major meat processor taken offline for a few days is a major headache, but it’s manageable assuming it doesn’t extend much beyond that,” he said. .

Jordan said it would help the demand for American meat generally decline for a few weeks between Memorial Day and the July 4 holiday on Independence Day.

But attacks can wreak havoc. Last month, a hacker gang shut down the operation of the Colonial Pipeline, America’s largest fuel pipeline, for nearly a week. The closure sparked long queues and panic shopping at gas stations in the southeast. Colonial Pipeline has confirmed that it paid the hackers $ 4.4 million.

Jason Crabtree, co-founder of QOMPLX, a Virginia-based artificial intelligence and machine learning company, said Marriott, FedEx and others have also been the targets of ransomware attacks. He said companies need to do a better job of quickly spotting bad actors in their systems.

“A lot of organizations are unable to find and fix different vulnerabilities faster than the adversaries they are fighting,” Crabtree said.

Crabtree said government plays a vital role as well, and said President Joe Biden’s recent cybersecurity executive order – which requires all federal agencies to use basic security measures, such as multi-factor authentication – is a good start.

Durbin reported from Detroit. AP writer Alan Suderman in Richmond, Virginia, and Alexandra Jaffe in Washington contributed.

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