Less than a month ago, hackers affected the distribution of gasoline in at least 15 states in the country. Now, a group of cyber pirates based in Russia attacked JBS Foods, the largest meat producer in the world, seeking to also damage the supply of this food.
The cyber-attack caused reported closures at the company’s plants in both the United States and Australia. Although it didn’t massively affect the meat inventory, it worried cybersecurity experts as it is becoming increasingly evident that hackers manage to affect companies that are indispensable for the supply of basic goods to the public.
Regarding the JBS attack, the White House said that the ransomware attack was probably carried out by a criminal organization based in Russia; while the Australian government said that the American police are taking the lead in the investigation of the attack.
In the United States, an official with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union told CNN on Tuesday night that all JBS beef plants in the country were shut down.
While the company is now starting operations and returning to “normal” there is great concern about the vulnerability of computer systems. With hacking tools easily accessible and funding difficult to track amid the rise of cryptocurrencies, cybercrime is skyrocketing worldwide, experts say.
In fact, according to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, ransomware attacks came to cost victims a total of $350 million last year alone.
How do hackers operate and what are they looking for with cyberattacks?
Laura Hoffner, chief of staff at Concentric, a Washington-based risk and security management firm told Fox News that cyber criminals “are catching on to how lucrative this business is” due to taking computer data hostage and then demanding a payment in cryptocurrencies as ransom.
“We saw in the last year the attacks on schools, attacks on hospitals, and now these large-impact attacks such as the pipeline, such as the meat industry – impacting the average citizen indirectly and directly,” she said.
“Whether they’re building some type of cyberattack plan against us or whether it’s criminal elements that are seeing how weak we are in our response, it both adds up to the same thing: And that’s that we have a weak cyberdefense national strategy,” former Virginia Rep. Denver Riggleman, who also served in military and private intelligence, told Fox News.
“Can you imagine if food, communications and power were taken out all at once in our country for four days?” Riggleman said. “It would be chaos. It would be an absolute zombie apocalypse out there,” he warned.
What happened with Colonial or JBS raises questions about how much damage hacking gangs can do to a country; either directly by affecting the population in their daily lives as happened with Colonial, or indirectly as when Russian hackers tapped into the computer systems of federal agencies for months.
In 2020 an Interpol assessment of cybercrime revealed a substantial shift in the targets of attacks; they now tend to be against large multinationals, state administrations and critical infrastructure.
“Cybercriminals are creating new attacks and intensifying their execution at an alarming rate, taking advantage of the fear and uncertainty caused by the unstable socio-economic situation generated by COVID-19,” said Jürgen Stock, Interpol’s Secretary General.
Fear of repeated attacks and more blows to U.S. cybersecurity
The enemies of the United States have been able to expose the country’s weaknesses in cybersecurity and experts fear a rain of cyberattacks.
The real world is becoming digital and the pandemic has also forced a greater virtualization of the tangible world, which exposes physical systems to the network,” Padraic O’Reilly, one of the founders of the firm CyberSaint Security, told the newspaper El País.
“According to information from security firm Emsisoft, there are around two dozen major groups in the business and, last year, they moved up to $18 billion in ransomware worldwide, which is an 80% increase over 2019, spurred in large part by this virtual boost in economic and human activity that the pandemic has brought,” the Spanish newspaper notes.
In view of the increase in cyberattacks, Biden signed an executive order on cybersecurity that obliges contracting companies to reinforce their measures.