Employees at the U.S. division of JBS SA, the world’s largest meat company, noticed something wrong in their computer systems over Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial kickoff for the busy summer grilling season.
The culprit, a ransomware attack, didn’t just hit its target—it roiled the U.S. food industry, from hog farms in Iowa to small-town processing plants and New York restaurants. The hack set off a domino effect that drove up wholesale meat prices, backed up animals in barns and forced food distributors to hurriedly search for new suppliers.
The attack was the latest clash between cybercriminals and companies integral to the functioning of the U.S. economy. It was another disruption to the U.S. food industry after the Covid-19 pandemic last year forced weeks of plant shutdowns, and this year, an economic rebound has stretched suppliers’ ability to meet demand.
After identifying the incursion early on Sunday, May 30, JBS said it alerted U.S. authorities and set three objectives: determine which operations could be run offline; restart systems using backup data; and tap experts to handle negotiations with the attackers. By that afternoon, the company had concluded that encrypted backups of its data were intact, said Andre Nogueira, chief executive officer of JBS USA Holdings Inc.
On Memorial Day, May 31, JBS employees, FBI officials and cybersecurity specialists at JBS’s U.S. headquarters in Greeley, Colo., worked to get systems back online. They had given priority to JBS’s shipping platform, allowing the company to resume moving meat to customers.