ILLINOIS — Carl Sandburg called Chicago the hog butcher for the world, but hackers may have something different in mind. Over the weekend, cybercriminals targeted JBS Foods International, the country’s second-largest meat producer, threatening dinner tables across the state and around the country.
Officials say hackers accessed and encrypted JBS’s computer systems, demanding a ransom in exchange for returning control to the company. So-called ransomware attacks are becoming more prominent, this one occurring only weeks after another criminal group took Colonial Pipeline offline, causing gas shortages for much of the U.S. East Coast.
Officials blamed the latest incident of cyber extortion on a group called REvil, and, like the DarkSide group that ransomed $4.4 million in bitcoin from Colonial Pipeline last month, they say it is likely based in Russia.
James Lowe, director of the College of Veterinary Medicine I-Learning Center at the University of Illinois, says if the disruption goes on too much longer, it could lead to a nationwide meat shortage.
He told Todd Gleason, a broadcaster for the University of Illinois Extension, that the meat industry typically runs at 100 percent, and any disruption can have a “ripple effect,” causing industry-wide bottlenecks.
The JBS meat-processing plant in Beardstown, Illinois, slaughters about 20,000 pigs and processes about 206 million 4-ounce services of meat per day. As of Tuesday night, it and every other JBS plant across the country was shut down.
As of Thursday, the company said most of its plants were back to near-full capacity.
“JBS USA and Pilgrim’s continue to make significant progress in restoring our IT systems and returning to business as usual,” said CEO Andre Nogueira in a statement. “Today, the vast majority of our facilities resumed operations as we forecast yesterday, including all of our pork, poultry and prepared foods facilities around the world and the majority of our beef facilities in the U.S. and Australia.”
Nevertheless, Lowe said the hack exposes a vulnerability in the highly-mechanized industry.
“If we don’t harvest the pigs at Beardstown today, they have to be harvested later,” he explained, according to a news release. “The pig continues to gain weight, and we run out of days to process this perishable commodity.”
It’s not clear what ransom the hackers demanded, or if the company paid it.
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