Australia’s food supply is particularly vulnerable to cyber attacks, warns the director of a national cybersecurity firm, as he calls on the industry to raise its standards on the anniversary of the JBS ransomware hack .
- Head of national cybersecurity firm warns Australia’s food supply is particularly vulnerable to hacking and pandemic-scale shutdowns
- The food industry has been added to the Commonwealth’s list of critical industries after a successful attack on Australia’s biggest meat company
- Five Eyes security alliance says Russian-backed hackers target countries aiding Ukraine
JBS Foods, the world’s largest meat processor, was ransomed by Russian-based hackers for $11 million last year.
The cyberattack halted the company’s global operations for five days, including several Australian slaughterhouses.
Claroty’s Australian regional manager Lani Refiti said the entire Australian food and drink supply chain was “particularly vulnerable” to further attacks.
“It happens,” Mr. Refiti said.
“It’s not a question of ‘if’ a major attack will occur in Australia’s food and drink sector, it’s a question of ‘when’.”
He said there would be food shortages if there was another incident like JBS.
Laws were passed months after the JBS hack to list food and drink as a critical national industry.
They have led to the introduction of mandatory cyber incident reporting and strengthened cybersecurity obligations for assets of national importance.
But Mr Refiti said major supermarkets, distributors and food processors were still much less safe than other industries.
“If you look at critical infrastructure like financial services, electricity, water, food and drink are at the bottom of the list,” he said.
Hacking threat backed by Russia
The Australian Cyber Security Center said cybercrime rose 13% last year, with self-reported losses totaling $33 billion.
About a quarter of the 67,500 cybercrime reports the agency received last year were associated with Australia’s critical infrastructure.
“The significant targeting, both nationally and internationally, of essential services such as the health, food distribution and energy sectors has underscored the vulnerability of critical infrastructure to significant disruption of essential services, loss of earnings and the potential for harm or loss of life,” the center’s 2021 report reads.
Mr Refiti said the surge in cybercrime had accelerated since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
He said there has been a lot more coordination between nations and cybercriminal groups over the past three to five years.
“Threat intelligence told us that these groups are supported or have been offered safe haven by the Russian government.”
The center joined US, UK, Canadian and New Zealand cybersecurity authorities last month to issue a public warning that Russian state-sponsored hackers were targeting the critical infrastructure of “countries and organizations providing material support to Ukraine”.
Animals, food at risk
The vulnerability of Australia’s food supply has been made clear during the pandemic, as shortages of some products have caused many others to panic buy.
Elizabeth Jackson, senior professor of supply chain and logistics at Curtin University, said a cyberattack could cause more problems than empty supermarket shelves.
A Woolworths spokesperson declined to be interviewed, saying only that “cybersecurity is a crucial part of our risk management framework and we welcome new legislation which will help create a consistent standard for cybersecurity protocol. throughout the supply chain”.
JBS Foods did not respond to requests for comment.
The JBS attack was one of several successful hacks targeting Australia’s food supply.
Lion, one of Australia’s largest milk and beer processors behind brands like XXXX, Tooheys, Pura and Masters milk, was hacked and halted production in 2020.
Toll Group, one of Australia’s largest food retailers, has been hacked and shut down twice in 2020.
“Anything that happens for three weeks and more would cause serious [food] shortages,” Refiti said.
“These companies are absolute targets,” Dr. Jackson said.
The technology is available
The Australian Cyber Security Center listed a range of attack types in its Critical Industries Warning “including destructive malware, ransomware, DDoS attacks and cyber espionage”.
Mr Refiti said malware attacks were a common way for hackers to extort ransoms and shut down entire businesses.
“It only takes one or two people in an organization to open an infected file, and then it spreads like wildfire through an infected organization.”
However, he said there were ways to improve security.
“Ransomware controls have been around for 10 years,” he said.
“It’s not a difficult thing to do from a process or technology perspective.”
He said the financial sector has strengthened its security.
“It took a lot of theft of credit cards and personal information for regulators to act and for the government to start holding these organizations to account,” he said.
“I think the same thing will happen in the food and beverage sector.”
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