Abattoir staff are set to return to work after meat processor JBS was crippled by a ransomware cyber attack earlier this week.

Key points:

  • Beef, wool, and dairy supply chains have all been hit by cyber attacks in the past 18 months
  • JBS workers are set to return to work after a ransomware attack closes abattoirs across Australia
  • Experts say hackers are targeting agribusinesses

This latest attack has highlighted a concerted effort among hackers to target global agricultural supply chains.

In 2020 a ransomware attack saw Australian wool sales brought to a halt and dairy processor Lion Dairy and Drinks was unable to deliver milk.

Cybersecurity consultant and partner at McGrath Nicol Darren Hopkins works with businesses that have been attacked by ransomware.

Mr Hopkins said agribusinesses were vulnerable.

“The major organised crime groups that run these attacks have actually called out that they’re targeting agricultural groups,” he said.

“REvil [a Russian-based group] … according to the company is allegedly responsible for this attack that we’re seeing with JBS at the moment.

“In October last year, they actually said the agricultural sector was something that they were going to target and moving forward it’s an area they’re looking to actually disrupt more.”

One explanation for the focus on agricultural supply chains could come down to the widespread disruption caused.

The more hackers can disrupt a supply chain, the more likely it is that businesses will pay the ransom to get back up running.

Analysts say this attack on JBS is very serious and highlights vulnerabilities to critical supply chains.

Man wearing pink shirt holding a gavel selling wool.

Wool auctions resumed in Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle in 2020 after a cyber attack shut down the selling system for eight days.(

ABC Rural: Cara Jeffery

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Wool market brought to standstill in 2020

In 2020, the wool selling system was brought to a halt after a ransomware attack encrypted the program needed to buy and sell wool.

Talman Software, which is used by more than 75 per cent of wool brokers across Australia and New Zealand, was hit by the cyber attack.

Nigel Stewart, Australian Wool Exchange IT manager, said woolgrowers were unable to sell wool for eight days.

“It had a major effect on the wool industry and caused complete disruption to sales,” he said.

It prompted the industry to conduct an internal review to reassess IT security.

It highlighted the importance of training users because in some instances they are the first line of defence to prevent a ransomware attack.

“We were already putting a lot of effort into security making sure our systems are up to date,” Mr Stewart said.

“But it’s an ongoing process, you can’t rest on your laurels.

“So you can’t rest and just think that it’s not going to happen to you.”

a photo of a dairy processing factory

Lion Dairy’s factory was unable to process orders after a ransomware attack in 2020.(

ABC News: Alex Blucher

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2020 ransomware attack halts delivery of milk for Lion

Dairy processor Lion Dairy and Drinks was forced to halt production after it suffered a ransomware attack in 2020.

The company said it was forced to adopt manual systems to take orders and ship products across the country.

The dairy processor said at the time while it didn’t impact the collection of milk from dairy farmers it did affect those hospitality businesses that relied on regular milk orders.

Can agribusinesses prevent cyber attacks?

Some experts said agriculture was no different from manufacturing and other industries where there could be a lack of investment in IT systems.

Mr Hopkins said a lot of the attacks could be prevented with simple IT controls.

“If you try and protect a system with just a username and a password it’s likely not to be enough — you need a second factor, multi-factor on your phone,” he said.

Some cybersecurity experts believe the JBS ransomware attack may prompt industries to look for alternative systems for doing business.

The director of the Monash Blockchain Technology Centre, Associate Professor Joseph Liu, said blockchain technology was harder to hack.

“This is a brand new idea different from the traditional cloud-server-based model,” he said.

“Because in a blockchain-based solution, there’s no single point of failure.

“It is a distributed trust system, so for the hacker it is very difficult to launch an attack to the blockchain system instead of the current cloud-server-based model.”

The adoption of blockchain technology within food supply chains remains in its infancy.

But Mr Hopkins said ransomware attacks were increasing and becoming more sophisticated.

While Australian abattoir workers will this week return to work at JBS, for the world’s largest meatpacker it is clear that agricultural supply chains remain a key target for ransomware attacks.

‘You can’t think it won’t happen to you’: Ransomware attacks on rise in agribusinesses sector
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