JBS SA employees were returning to US meat plants on Wednesday, a day after the company’s beef operations stopped following a ransomware attack.
The REvil/Sodinokibi ransomware group is behind the cyber attack against JBS that disrupted meat production in North America and Australia, a source familiar with the matter said.
Brazil’s JBS controls about 20 percent of the slaughtering capacity for US cattle and hogs, so the plants starting to reopen should prevent a severe supply chain disruption although it was unclear when all plants would be operating as normal again.
Plants in the US are expected to return to full capacity in the next couple days, said officials with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union, which represents over 25,000 JBS meatpacking workers.
JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker, said it made “significant progress in resolving a cyber attack”, with the “vast majority” of the company’s beef, pork, poultry and prepared foods plants to be operational again this week.
Cyber security investigators have previously said they believe some members of the REvil ransomware team are based in Russia.
The prolific ransomware group, which is perhaps best known for attacking an Apple supplier named Quanta Computer earlier this year, has previously posted in Russian on cybercrime forums, marketing stolen data.
In the Quanta Computer case, the hackers sent extortion threats and demanded a payment of US$50 million for the company to regain access to its systems.
Over the past few years, ransomware has evolved into a pressing national security issue.
A number of gangs develop the software that encrypts files and then demand payment in cryptocurrency for keys that allow the owners to decipher and use them again.
Scrambling for beef
With North American operations headquartered in Greeley, Colorado, JBS sells beef and pork under the Swift brand, with retailers like Costco Wholesale carrying its pork loins and tenderloins.
US beef and pork prices are already rising as China increases imports, animal feed costs rise and slaughterhouses have confronted a labor shortage since Covid-19 outbreaks shut down many US meat plants.
“It’s probably going to be pretty tight for the next few days because even though they (JBS) are going to start opening they say today, who knows how they are going to run,” said Altin Kalo, economist at Steiner Consulting Group.
“There’s a fair amount of people that are scrambling (for beef supplies).”
US meatpackers on Wednesday slaughtered 12.5 percent fewer cattle than a week earlier and 8 percent less than a year earlier, though slaughtering was up about 12 percent from Tuesday, according to estimates from the US Department of Agriculture.
JBS also owns most of chicken processor Pilgrim’s Pride Co, which sells organic chicken under the Just Bare brand.
The company’s operations in Brazil, Mexico and the United Kingdom were not affected by the attack, JBS said.