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JBS Meat Packing Hack: The Links Between Cybersecurity and Consumerism

JBS Foods is the number one global beef and poultry producer as well as the second largest pork producer in the world. On Sunday, May 30th, the meat giant announced that they suffered a malicious cyber attack — nine of the company’s beef processing plants in the United States were shut down due to ransomware. Thankfully, the business was sure to shut down the affected systems (in both the US and Australia) in order to avoid further spread of the attack. Many of the systems were back to pre-attack operational conditions by Wednesday, and JBS announced that they would be able to commence production operations the following day. The company reported that customers should not be concerned, as the food safety of the food products was not impacted by this attack.

While vegetarians and vegans alike may have rejoiced when they heard news of the largest meat distributor having their operations temporarily interrupted, this hack acts as an example of the very real impacts of cybersecurity threats on the physical world. This hack very well could have caused the supply of meat from this massive distributor to have spoiled, with or without knowledge to the company or the consumer, causing major health issues. Had this attack not been caught when it was, it easily could have been one which caused such disarray in the production of meat, that the supply chains for all industries related to meat could have easily been impacted. Restaurants are finally gaining some steam after a very hard year with COVID, a hit to their meat supply could easily have meant they’d have to close their doors for good. Had the supply chains for grocery stores been impacted, these businesses would likely have seen mass-buying levels of meat on par with the panic buying of toilet paper seen at the beginning of the pandemic. Though it is clearly something to be grateful for that these are merely what-ifs or could-haves, this event shows how truly vulnerable our various essential supply chains are and how easily our lives could be impacted as consumers by a company’s lack of cybersecurity defenses.

While JBS Foods was able to reign in the issues caused by cybercriminals before any major issue to the consumer was seen, the Colonial Pipeline hack from about a month ago caused hysteria and gas prices to surge in the eastern part of the country, very directly impacting a large sect of the United States. It has become clear that these malicious actors are deliberately trying to disturb the supply chains of some of our most necessary industries with cyber attacks.

Something like a natural disaster or a quality control issue is something that easily gets the attention of the average consumer as being an impactful risk that may affect them; however, this issue of cybersecurity impacting the supply chain for our various industries is a major risk that these two recent events have shown to be something very real. Businesses at all levels of each industry need to be sure to enact strong cybersecurity protocols and operations in order to protect themselves and their customers from real world impacts.

Image from The Independent.