Goodbye COVID, hello cybercrime

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Goodbye COVID, hello cybercrime

The poultry industry must prepare for the growing threat posed by ransomware..

Now that the threat of COVID-19 is fading, the U.S. poultry industry must turn its attention to the urgent threat posed by emboldened cybercriminals. 

In the past few months, sophisticated cybercriminals – or groups of highly skilled and organized hackers that may be sponsored by hostile nations – caused chaos in regions of the U.S. by disrupting critical energy infrastructure. The threat hit closer to home for the poultry industry when JBS, the world’s largest meat company and owner of Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., was hacked. 


These attacks bring major financial costs. Increasingly, hackers are utilizing ransomware. This malware locks users out of their network, or threatens to destroy critical data or other assets, unless a ransom is paid to the hackers. JBS reportedly paid $11 million when it was attacked in May 2021. This direct payment will only add to losses caused by disruption of the company’s meat processing operations. 

Getting a quick, large payday buoys hackers and incentivizes them to prey on others they perceive as easy targets. The COVID-19 pandemic is pushing more workers out of the office, putting more information on potentially vulnerable devices and internet connections, which is facilitating entry into networks. State-sponsored groups, if they indeed exist, are looking to attack America’s energy, water and food supply chains as part of a cyberwarfare campaign.

Don’t be a victim

The JBS hack should serve as a stern warning for all in the poultry industry and in agriculture. Governments, law enforcement and technology companies can only do so much to slow or stop cybercrime. Ultimately, it is up to the individual companies to protect their networks from nefarious actors. 

Cybersecurity is a complex world. Hackers have hundreds of ways to sneak into a network and hold operations hostage. If the company does not already have an information technology operation capable of securing the enterprise from modern threats, it should find expert, outside help. Professional firms can assess the state of the network’s defense and boost overall security. It is worth spending the money to protect the company, the brand and public confidence in the security of the food supply chain.

Smaller steps can make a big difference, too. Management should learn about best practices for cybersecurity – like keeping software updated, using strong passwords changed frequently and multi-step authentication, backing up data frequently and using anti-virus software – and educate their employees on their role in the organization’s cybersecurity. Moreover, companies need to plan how to respond if they are attacked and be ready to keep operating, or quickly resume operations, after an assault.