This thief will not physically walk onto your property. However, this silent thief could inflict more damage via disrupted operations and financial harm than most physical intruders.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is especially warning agricultural cooperatives that they may be a prime target for silent thieves via cyberattacks. Ransomware actors can unleash software designed to block access to a computer system until a ransom or sum of money is paid to the cyberattackers.
“Cyber threat actors will continue to exploit network, system, and application vulnerabilities within the food and agriculture sector,” wrote FBI officials in their April 20, 2022, bulletin. After issuing that warning, the FBI proceeded to list 15 action items to reduce the threat of cyberattack.
Chief among them were regular data backups, implementing a recovery plan, identifying ways to manually operate if electronic systems go down, and using very strong passwords. Another group of suggestions may require additional support from computer and software specialists.
Attacks have already taken place
Agricultural cooperatives may be high on the target list because it’s springtime and that means planting is happening. Given the potential disruption, ransomware actors believe those in the farming community may pay the ransom rather than restore systems because of the time sensitive nature of farming. The FBI cited ransomware attacks against six grain cooperatives during the fall 2021 harvest and two attacks in early 2022 that could impact the planting season by disrupting the supply of seeds and fertilizer. The FBI is concerned more cyberattacks may be forthcoming.
In addition to these ransomware attacks, beef and dairy were also hit last year. In late October, Schreiber Foods was impacted. The maker of natural and processed cheese with 30 locations around the world couldn’t receive milk contracted for delivery.
In an even higher profile attack, JBS paid a multi-million dollar ransom last year after 13 of its pork and beef slaughterhouses were disabled. There were other reports of cyberattacks on dairy co-ops as well.
Created in 2018, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency lists food and agriculture as one of America’s 16 critical infrastructure sectors. This agency operates with oversight from the Department of Homeland Security.